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Government/Politics

Texas Secretary Of State Calls For Citizenship Checks For 95,000 Voters

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Ryan Poppe
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated for accuracy.

Updated Jan. 30.

The Texas secretary of state’s office issued guidance to counties Friday to investigate 95,000 potential non-citizens who registered to vote over the past 22 years.

Sam Taylor, with the secretary of state’s office, said they made the list by cross-referencing voter registration data from the state’s Department of Public Safety from 1996 to 2018.

"DPS actually keeps data from people who come in who are lawfully present but are not citizens of the United States. So when we got all that information from the DPS, we cross-referenced with our voter registration database,” Taylor said.

Taylor said, based on a 2013 law passed by the state legislature, the secretary of state’s office cross-referenced current voter rolls against work visas and green cards if a person had applied for a driver’s license.

“So all of these 95,000 had current documentation on file with DPS, indicating that they were here legally but not citizens of the U.S,” Taylor said.

But State Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio and chair of the Senate’s Hispanic Caucus, is skeptical of that number. He points to the advisory from the secretary of state’s office to county election officials that labeled these voters as “WEAK” matches.

“The Department of Public Safety requires people to present citizenship documents when renewing their licenses. And that’s why I believe you have all these ‘WEAK’ matches. That’s probably legal permanent residents who have received their citizenship and registered to vote but have not yet updated their driver’s licenses,” Menendez said.

According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, an estimated 50,000 people residing in Texas become U.S. citizens every year.

Julieta Garibay became a citizen in 2018 and believes she may be on a list of registered voters believed to be non-citizens.

“There is nothing on the books that I know of that says once you become a U.S. citizen that you have to go back to DPS to let them know you became a citizen. And so it’s frustrating because I know there are many people out there will think they did something wrong,” Garibay said.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, along with other groups, has sent Texas Secretary of State David Whitley a letter, demanding he rescinds his office’s advisory.

READ | A letter from the Texas Civil Rights Project

Bexar County election officials have received the secretary of state’s list of potential non-citizen voters.

Beginning this month, if deemed credible, officials will notify the voters on that list that they have 30 days to provide election administrators proof of citizenship or they will be removed from the voter rolls. His office has notified the Texas attorney general’s office so they may investigate any possible violations of election laws.

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Ryan Poppe can be reached atrpoppe@tpr.org or on Twitter@RyanPoppe1