Texas director of elections defends process of rooting out ‘non-citizen’ voters

Texas Politics

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Nexstar) — Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram says the advisory sent to county voter registrars in late January regarding registered voters and their citizenship status wasn’t intended as an order or a directive.

Several groups are suing the state over this list, saying it was used as a way to intimidate voters.

In day two of a hearing over the lawsuit, attorneys for the state called Ingram, who has worked in the Secretary of State’s office for seven years, to the stand Wednesday. He described the elections process in Texas as a “bottom-up” system, where counties are responsible for voter rolls and elections within the county.

Ingram said the Secretary of State’s office routinely conducts list maintenance activities to have the most updated information.

“We want to make sure people are in their proper precinct and that nobody’s legitimate vote is canceled by an illegitimate vote,” he said.

Plaintiffs asked Ingram whether working with the Texas Department of Public Safety and identifying voters who may be non-U.S. citizens was a rushed process.

“No, definitely not,” Ingram said.

County elections officials who testified in court Tuesday said they viewed the advisory from the Secretary of State’s office as a directive – that they had to send out Notices of Examination to the people on the list provided to them. 

Ingram said counties were briefed through in-person and online trainings. He also said language in the advisory should have touched on the fact that county voter registrars were responsible.

“All records submitted through this process will need to be treated as WEAK matches, meaning that the county may choose to investigate the voter, pursuant to Section 16.033, Election Code, or take no action on the voter record if the voter registrar determines that there is no reason to believe the voter is ineligible,” the advisory from Jan. 25 said. “The county may not cancel a voter based on the information provided without first sending a Notice of Examination (Proof of Citizenship Letter) (PDF) and following the process outlined in the letter. In order to help counties make a determination regarding whether or not to send a Notice of Examination or close the task without taking further action, information provided by DPS will be provided to each county for further review and comparison against the voter record.

“We can give them the best data we can give and then the counties have to do the work with their data,” Ingram said.

During cross-examination, Ingram stressed counties were supposed to view the data as a “weak match.”

“We did not want to adversely impact eligible voters,” he said.

Lang, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that’s now how counties interpreted the advisory and follow-up communication from the Secretary of State’s office.

“Tens of thousands of people naturalize every year in Texas,” Danielle Lang, an attorney with Campaign Legal Center, said. “You won’t find that information that explains why more investigation is necessary if you’re going to act on this at all, which we don’t think you should act on stale data. You won’t find any of that in Mr. Ingram’s emails or in the press advisory.”

“We think the fix is that the advisory be rescinded and no further action be taken — voters be informed that no further action be taken and then go back and not rely on stale data that targets naturalized citizens,” Lang continued.

Both parties will be back in court either Friday or early next week. The case in Corpus Christi related to this voter list has been transferred to San Antonio and attorneys are waiting to hear what will happen to another case that was filed in Galveston.

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