Voter suppression is wrong

Gov. Greg Abbott owes Texans an apology

by Erica Grieder

Secretary of State David Whitley made a terrible mistake last week that might have potentially serious consequences.

Whitley should probably resign after issuing an advisory on Jan. 25 flagging 95,000 of the state’s registered voters as potential noncitizens. At least 58,000 of those people have voted at least once since 1996, he said.

It was possible to infer from the advisory itself that many of them were citizens, because Whitley explained that the Texas Secretary of State’s office has spent the past year comparing its records with those kept by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Non citizen lawfully in the country are eligible to apply for a Texas driver’s license. And some who have done so over the past 22 years have subsequently been naturalized. And naturalized citizens are eligible to vote.

Non citizens, by contrast, aren’t eligible to vote and most of them understand that.

Even if a noncitizen was tempted to cast a ballot, he continued, most aren’t willing to take the risk. A noncitizen in Tarrant County voted illegally in 2014, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

“The penalties are huge,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat from Dallas who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “You are barred from citizenship. You are facing deportation.”

I haven’t spent much time puzzling over Whitley’s motives. He’s been secretary of state for less than two months, and prior to that he was Gov. Greg Abbott’s deputy chief of staff.

The secretary of state is a gubernatorial appointee, and Abbott has a long record of fearmongering about voter fraud, among other issues. Whitley may be a mere stooge, in other words, and he’s definitely not a rogue actor, among Texas Republicans.

Bills have been filed in both the House and the Senate — by Republican state Rep. Mike Lang and Republican state Sen. Pat Fallon — that would require people to provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in Texas.

And Whitley’s list was sloppy, to put it mildly. The Secretary of State’s office has already conceded that a majority of the nearly 30,000 voters flagged in Harris County, for example, were mistakenly flagged in the first place.

It’ll take a while to confirm exactly how many naturalized citizens were targeted, because roughly 80 percent of the voters who were flagged as potential noncitizens live in the state’s 10 most populous counties.

But according to county officials in McLennan County, all 366 of the registered voters flagged as potential noncitizens are in fact citizens — citizens who did nothing wrong, much less suspicious, and nonetheless ended up on this ridiculous, Orwellian list.

Most Republicans can see that, although few of them are saying so in public.

A notable exception is former Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, who was also appointed by Abbott and has said that he thinks the entire list should be rescinded.

I agree. This was an unusually ham-fisted attempt at voter suppression, and voter suppression is wrong. It’s true that Texas turned purple in 2018 — and that Democrats might win its electoral votes in 2020. But that’s not an excuse for maliciously targeting Texas voters, obviously.

And although the Secretary of State’s office is already walking back the claims Whitley made in his advisory, a certain degree of damage has already been done.

President Donald Trump is prone to believing what other people tell him, especially if they’re people who tell him things he wants to hear, via a television program on the Fox News Channel.

He tweeted “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote” on Jan. 27th, shortly after Whitley’s advisory was discussed on Fox & Friends.

“These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!” he added.

Trump is wrong, of course. If he loses Texas in 2020, it will be because a majority of the Texans who voted preferred the Democratic nominee.

But Trump won’t hear that from Republican leaders like Abbott, who has a long record of fearmongering about voter fraud — and no record of displeasing Trump.

And Texans won’t hear an apology from Abbott, but he owes us one.

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