Texas counties removed 14 voters from the rolls in citizenship review

Texas Tribune News

Long lines for the start of early voting snaked around the parking at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center near downtown Houston on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018.
Long lines for the start of early voting snaked around the parking at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center near downtown Houston on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018.
Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

Fourteen Texas voters caught up in the secretary of state’s botched review of the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens had their registrations canceled but have since been reinstated, state officials told a federal judge Friday.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office informed the San Antonio court judge as part of the ongoing litigation over the state’s error-riddled review, through which almost 100,000 individuals were marked as possible noncitizens. Seven counties marked the voting registration of 14 individuals as canceled because the voters had failed to respond to letters that demanded they prove their citizenship.

Counties were canceling voters’ registrations as recently as Wednesday — well after federal District Judge Fred Biery halted the review effort on Feb. 27 and ordered local officials to hold off on removing any voters from the voter rolls without his approval.

The cancellations affected voters in Coke, DeWitt, Matagorda, Montague, Victoria, Willacy and Zavala counties.

In some cases, voters hit the 30-day deadline they were given to provide their local voter registrar with proof that they are U.S. citizens and therefore eligible to vote, according to a review by the secretary of state’s office. Two voters in DeWitt County were canceled on Feb. 4 before the end of that 30-day period because their notices were returned as undeliverable. In Willacy County, officials “mistakenly” removed an individual from the voter rolls on Feb. 20 before the end of that period.

The Texas secretary of state initiated the review effort in late January when it distributed lists of about 98,000 individuals it listed as “possible non-U.S. citizens” because they had provided the state with information that showed they were not citizens when they obtained a driver’s license or ID card. The lists were shipped off to counties with instructions for how local officials should review and investigate those voters by using the proof-of-citizenship letters.

At least 25,000 of those individuals were erroneously flagged by the state because of a mix-up between the secretary of state’s office and the Department of Public Safety, which had provided the data on which the review was based. But the methods used to compose the entire list remain questionable.

State election officials based their review on DPS data they knew would not account for individuals who became naturalized citizens after obtaining a driver’s license or ID card.

It’s unclear how many of the 14 voters whose registrations were canceled are not actually U.S. citizens. Counties canceled their registrations because they did not respond to the notices.

But officials in the secretary of state’s office have said they knew naturalized citizens could be swept up in the review because individuals who become naturalized citizens do not have to update DPS on their citizenship status before their licenses or IDs expire.

In temporarily blocking the purging of any voters as part of the citizenship review, Biery described the state’s review effort as a “mess” that burdened “perfectly legal naturalized Americans” who received “ham-handed and threatening” letters asking them to prove their citizenship within 30 days to avoid being kicked off the voter rolls.

“No native born Americans were subjected to such treatment,” Biery wrote.