AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Attorney General's office sent a letter to key Senators saying they will hold off on illegal voting investigations after the Secretary of State answered tough questions from state Senators over a flawed non-citizen voter list.
Two weeks ago, the SOS released a ‘non-citizen’ voter list to counties and to the AG for prosecution with confirmed United States citizens on the list.
During the Senate Committee on nominations, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, asked acting Secretary of State David Whitley to ask the Attorney General to hold off on investigating the list.
Read the full letter from the Attorney General's office here.
It all started January 25, when the Secretary of State announced as many as 95,000 'non-citizens' were registered to vote in Texas. He sent that list to county election officials to request proof of citizenship from those people within 30 days or they would lose their ability to vote.
He also sent that list to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Within hours Paxton announced a "voter fraud alert" and an investigation. Governor Greg Abbott praised the two state officials for uncovering the illegal vote registration. President Trump used it to claim voter fraud was 'rampant' in America. State officials were confident the numbers would hold up.
"We're very confident. That's why we took so long to whittle down the data, the erroneous matches, to make sure we are dealing with current not U.S. citizens on this list," said Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.
But problems came up fast.
Monday, Travis County election administration Bruce Elfant told KXAN, "I think that anybody that would suggest massive voter fraud before we know what's going on are premature and irresponsible."
The Secretary of State matched voter data with information the Department of Public Safety had from when people — including non-citizens — got their driver's licenses. When counties went to verify, they found thousands of U.S. citizens: some who became naturalized after they got their drivers license and others who proved citizenship when they registered to vote and renewed their driver license at the same time.
It's still unclear how those names landed on the list in the first place.
Whitley sent the list to a law enforcement agency before his office knew all the facts. He then began telling county officials to carefully go through the list they sent over, citizens likely were on the list.
Latino advocacy groups filed multiple lawsuits claiming a coordinated attempt to suppress votes. Critics see it as either an attempt to illegally purge the rolls or a massive screw up on basic data entry. The same Republican leaders who were quick to claim this as illegal vote registration say the Secretary of State was following the law.
"It wasn't a hard and fast list. This is a list that we need to work on together," Abbott said days later at an unrelated press conference."This is what you'd categorize as a process. A work in process. They'll get it right."
This effort started in March 2018 to comply with the Help America Vote Act and Chapter 18 of state law, requiring Texas to keep up to date voter information. Rolando Pablos was the Secretary of State then but so far this has defined Whitley's tenure.
Now his job is on the line. Two-thirds of the Senate must approve him. There are 31 Senators and 19 Republicans, one short of two-thirds.
The lawsuits will continue and for thousands, the ability to vote hangs in the balance.