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Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit Against State, Citing Voter Intimidation

Ryan Poppe

Updated 12 p.m.

After Texas state officials announced it was flagging tens of thousands of registered voters for citizenship checks, two civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit, citing voter intimidation.

The Texas League of United Latin American Citizens and National League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Secretary of State David Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The lawsuit claims that Whitley and Paxton have combined to "intimidate people who are currently legitimately registered to vote into de-registering or just not voting (or both) in the upcoming May 2019 election."

“It says simply that you cannot use any tactics whatsoever to threaten or intimidate voters to keep them away from the polls, from voting and even includes registration. That is a clear violation of the voting rights act," said Luis Vera, lead attorney for the national office of LULAC.

The secretary of state's office said Friday it located 95,000 non-citizens who registered to vote between 1996 and 2018. It estimated that over 50,000 of those voters had voted in one or more election.

Sam Taylor with the secretary of state’s office told TPR they cross-referenced voter registration data with data from the state’s Department of Public Safety. They will then advise counties to send letters to the people in question, asking for proof of citizenship.

The lawsuit said the use of the data "is suspect on its face and a blackout on public access to the data." It also claims that the Latino community across the state "are being illegally targeted for voter intimidation."

"Neither the SOS nor the AG made any of the underlying data publicly available at the time of their orchestrated press barrage on January 25th," the lawsuit said. "This, despite the fact that the apparent key to the process was using DPS data that goes back nearly a quarter-century and 'matching' it against current voter registration data."

Various civil rights groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, are also demanding that Whitley rescind his advisory purporting to identify non-citizen registered voters.

“Given the long history of anti-immigrant policies and attempts at voter suppression by our Texas officials, we cannot trust that this investigation has been conducted in a fair and non-discriminatory manner,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, in a news release.

In addition to demanding that Whitley rescind the advisory, the groups have also asked officials in charge of elections in all of Texas’ 254 counties to take no action on the matter until Paxton has provided greater transparency on its procedures and ensured there are adequate safeguards for not identifying lawfully registered naturalized citizens.

“The ‘investigation’ outlined by the Secretary of State is woefully inadequate and risks purging thousands of eligible Texans from the voting rolls,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “The Advisory is another attempt from state officials to drum up support for a radical anti-voter agenda in the current Legislative session and in other states with like-minded officials.”

Ryan Poppe contributed to this report.

Vince Kong comes to Texas Public Radio after working for about a decade in print, including stints in the Midwest, Northwest and Southwest.