State

Fort Worth attorney purged from voter rolls after 30 years. Was it because of her name?

Registering to vote in Texas might be overwhelming, so we broke it down for you

In this short video, find out who can register to vote, where to register, which documents are needed and when you must register by to vote in the next election.
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In this short video, find out who can register to vote, where to register, which documents are needed and when you must register by to vote in the next election.

Rose Anna Salinas headed to the polls last year, planning to vote early at a subcourthouse in Burleson.

But when the Fort Worth attorney asked for a ballot, she was told she couldn’t vote — despite being a registered voter at the same Johnson County address for three decades.

Election officials made several phone calls to find out why she was no longer on the state’s voting list.

“I was told my name had been purged,” said Salinas, 63. “I was told it didn’t happen in Johnson County. It was the secretary of state. And somehow, the number on the card was given to someone in South Texas.

“I was really upset,” she said, adding that she believes she was purged from the list because of her Spanish surname. “As a young kid, I learned racism because I experienced it. I always thought when I was older that my kids and grand kids wouldn’t know what that word meant. The disappointment that they do is enormous for me.”

The Secretary of State’s Office said no one’s voter registration is canceled because of his or her surname.

“Registered voters can be canceled for ineligibility or if they do not confirm their address after two federal election cycles ... but cannot be canceled simply on the basis of one’s name,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman with the secretary’s office.

Salinas is one of countless Texans removed from the state’s voter rolls without their knowledge.

On Monday, a third lawsuit was filed regarding the Jan. 25 announcement by Secretary of State David Whitley questioning the citizenship of 95,000 Texas voters.

State election officials said names were flagged for review because some people showed identification such as a green card to the DPS while they were getting a driver’s license or ID card. Some may have later gained citizenship, registered to vote and actually voted, but ended up on the list because they initially presented a green card to DPS.

Officials haven’t publicly adjusted the numbers of Texans flagged for citizenship scrutiny, but they’ve quietly told election officials across the state to remove more than 20,000 names from the list. Tarrant County’s list dropped from 5,800 names to review to 4,700.

Voter fraud has been a longtime concern for Texas lawmakers who have said that a law was needed requiring people to show a photo ID when voting, despite a small number of convictions.

Illegal voting is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison.

There are more than 15.8 million voters across Texas, including more than 1.1 million in Tarrant County.

Texas lawsuits

A lawsuit filed Monday charges that the state sent out bad data targeting registered voters for citizenship scrutiny even though the list includes names of naturalized citizens who are eligible to vote.

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Jolt Initiative, the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP filed the suit against Secretary of State David Whitley, Elections Director Keith Ingram and election officials in five counties — Blanco, Caldwell, Fayette, Galveston and Washington.

“The Texas secretary of state has engaged in a sloppy exercise that threatens to unfairly strip people of the opportunity to participate in American democracy,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “We look forward to ensuring that all eligible Texas voters can make their voices heard on Election Day.”

Several groups have asked Texas officials to rescind the original advisory and not make it harder for Texans to vote.

“Our democracy is stronger when everyone has a seat at the table. But elected officials at the highest level of office are fighting tooth and nail to deprive Texans of their right to vote,” said Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, Founder and Executive Director of Jolt Initiative. “The right to vote was won through centuries of struggle, and we continue that struggle today.”

On Saturday, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund announced it filed a lawsuit against the secretary of state, saying he singled out naturalized citizens for possible removal from voter rolls “based solely on the fact that they were born outside the United States.”

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund asked for an injunction and for the secretary of state’s list to be withdrawn “unless and until it acquires information that the voters are currently ineligible to vote.”

Last week, lawyers for the League of United Latin American Citizens filed the first such lawsuit against the secretary of state and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming voter intimidation and voter suppression.

Purged

Salinas said she knows how anyone removed from the list of Texas voters feels.

She was determined to not leave the polling site last year until her name was back on the list — and she had voted.

So she waited as election workers made phone call after phone call. They finally shared with her that her name had been removed from the state’s list and her voter ID number had been given to a man in South Texas.

“They couldn’t explain it,” she said.

Before she left, election officials asked Salinas to fill out a new voter registration card.

“They wanted to fix it right away when they found out I was an attorney,” she said.

Salinas worries that others might not fight as hard as she did to get back on the voter list.

“They would go home and not vote,” she said.

But Salinas said her mother taught her to always vote — and she has always proudly honored that request.

The recent lawsuits filed over the recent citizenship scrutiny should help draw attention to this issue.

But Salinas still wants to find out what happened in her case.

“I want to know who pushed that button to remove my name,” she said. “I haven’t moved around. I don’t have a shady past. There’s no reason for my name to have been removed.

“Who erased my name?”

In a jailhouse interview with the Star-Telegram, Rosa Ortega said she has lost custody of her children and will likely be deported when her eight-year sentence is up.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.


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