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Texas’ Secretary of State is scrambling for legislative support to keep his job amid concerns over voting rights after a federal court settlement ended a controversial voter list purge aimed at non-citizen voters. The Express-News has more:
Secretary of State David Whitley is meeting privately with Democratic Senators this week as he tries to keep his job. But several Democrats say they still won’t vote to confirm Whitley, despite the settlement Monday of federal lawsuits that challenged Texas’ bungled attempt to purge up to 95,000 suspected noncitizens from the voter rolls.
“I don’t think that harm can be repaired,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, one of the 12 Senate Democrats who have pledged to block Whitley’s confirmation. “It doesn’t change a thing.”
Whitley has been under fire since late January, when his office wrongly flagged tens-of-thousands of Texans as potential non-citizens to be removed from the state’s voter rolls.
Though he was nominated by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in December, Whitley still needs sign-off from the 31-member state Senate. Without the support of two chamber Democrats, Whitley will likely lose his job at the end of the legislative session in May.
Some lawmakers have suggested that election reform legislation could boost Whitley’s case – but the numbers in Austin suggest such proposals would likely fail:
A few Democrats indicated they might reconsider their opposition if Whitley pledges to boost statewide election participation by allowing online voter registration or same-day voter registration. Under current laws, Texas voters must register a month before the election, the most strict deadline allowed by the federal government.
“That could be a game changer,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “That would show me there’s a desire to help people be engaged in the process.”
Both those proposals, however, would need Legislative approval. And neither has gained much traction in the Republican-controlled House or Senate this session.
Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, said Whitley didn’t mention same-day or online voter registration when they met for 30 minutes Monday.
“I made it very clear to him he needs 2 votes,” Miles said. “I can’t be one of them.”
Whitley is pledging cooperation with Democrats, who are still unhappy with the program that was aimed at non-citizens on the voter rolls but was widely criticized for poor data quality and a tendency to overestimate the numbers of illegal voters on the rolls:
In a statement, a spokesman said Whitley looks forward to meeting with the “Texas Senate Democratic Caucus to discuss the settlement agreement and voter registration list maintenance going forward.”
“He looks forward to addressing the concerns of the Caucus and receiving feedback on ways to enhance access to the ballot box in Texas,” Whitley’s spokesman Sam Taylor said in a statement.
The settlement calls on Whitley to rescind his office’s January advisory, which announced the purge to county elections administrators, and to advise them to take no further action on data files the office released in connection to that advisory.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t respond to a request for comment, though he has defended Whitley and cast blame on the Texas Department of Public Safety for providing faulty citizenship data.
If Whitley isn’t confirmed. the battle likely shifts to a new nominee – who will still have to deal with fallout from the purge, including a Congressional investigation:
If Whitley isn’t confirmed, Abbott must nominate someone else to the post, though it’s not clear who that might be. In addition to overseeing elections, the secretary of state also keeps business records and is a liaison for the governor on Mexican and border affairs.
On Monday, more than 20 civil rights groups sent a letter to Texas Democrats urging them to continue blocking Whitley’s confirmation. “Public service is a privilege, not a right, and there are a number of other qualified people that the Governor can appoint to this position,” said the letter, without naming names.
Meanwhile, the Democrat-led U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee is still pursuing an investigation into the attempted voter purge. On Monday, Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote a letter to state officials demanding they turn over documents the committee had requested earlier this month, including any correspondence with Abbott and the Trump administration. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has denied the records request.
It’s actually unusual for a chief state election official to get this kind of real-time pressure for actions in office; usually that only happens at the ballot box on Election Day. Texas, like many states, is deeply divided on election policy – and the Secretary of State could end up being the latest casualty.