Texas election officials said Friday that tens of thousands of people whose U.S. citizenship could not be confirmed cast ballots in one or more election in the state during the past 22 years.
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley said a year-long evaluation found about 95,000 people described as “non-U.S. citizens” who are registered to vote in Texas. About 58,000 of them voted in Texas elections between 1996 and 2018, Whitley said.
“Integrity and efficiency of elections in Texas require accuracy of our state’s voter rolls, and my office is committed to using all available tools under the law to maintain an accurate list of registered voters,” Whitley said.
These voters were found as state workers updated voter registration lists, comparing data with the Texas Department of Public Safety, to make sure those who cast ballots were eligible to do so, Whitley said.
No information was available Friday afternoon on where those voters live or voted in Texas.
Voter fraud has been a longtime concern for Texas lawmakers, who have said that was part of the reason they passed a law requiring voters to show a photo ID when voting.
Some civil rights officials weighed in Friday, acknowledging that the numbers are alarming. But they question whether the list includes duplications and factors in that about 50,000 Texas residents become naturalized citizens every year.
It’s not surprising that officials announced this news “using alarmist language that is clearly intended to advance a false political narrative to further restrict access to the ballot box,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
“Unfortunately, the state has opted to over zealously pursue election prosecutions and ruin the lives of Texans for minor mistakes while ignoring the substantial issue of our outdated and archaic election system that actually stops eligible voters from casting a ballot that counts,” Stevens said.
There have been several cases of voter fraud recently filed by the Attorney General’s Office in Tarrant County.
Among them, an alleged voter fraud ring in Fort Worth that led to the indictment of four women: Leticia Sanchez, Leticia Sanchez Tepichin, Maria Solis and Laura Parra.
In a prepared statement, the Secretary of State’s Office said it has forwarded information about the non-citizen voters to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which investigates and prosecutes cases of voter fraud.
“Every single instance of illegal voting threatens democracy in our state and deprives individual Texans of their voice,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a prepared statement. “My Election Fraud Unit stands ready to investigate and prosecute crimes against the democratic process when needed.”
“Nothing is more vital to preserving our Constitution than the integrity of our voting process, and my office will do everything within its abilities to solidify trust in every election in the state of Texas.”
Illegally voting is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison.
In 2017, a Grand Prairie mother of four, Rosa Maria Ortega, made national news when she was sentenced to eight years in prison for illegally voting. Ortega, who has a green card and isn’t a U.S. citizen, lost an appeal to the 2nd Court of Appeals late last year. It is uncertain if she plans to appeal that verdict.
The Attorney General’s Office notes that state law lets non-citizens receive driver’s licenses by showing “proof of lawful presence” to the DPS.
“However, only citizens are eligible to vote,” according to a statement from the Attorney General’s Office.
Whitley, the secretary of state, issued an advisory about the voter registration list to Texas officials Friday afternoon.
He said election workers reviewed the statewide voter registration database, and compared the information to a DPS-provided list in order to identify possible non-U.S. citizens who are registered to vote.
They reviewed names, social security numbers, DPS-issued driver license or personal identification card numbers and dates of birth.
The list of those believed to be non-U.S. citizens who voted has gone to the attorney general’s office. And from now on, the Secretary of State’s Office plans to review data shared by DPS on a monthly basis to confirm the citizenship of Texas voters.
Heider Garcia, Tarrant County’s elections administrator, didn’t immediately respond Friday afternoon to a request for a comment from the Star-Telegram.
But he and other county election officials across the state will receive lists over the next few days of anyone identified as a “non-U.S. citizen” who voted.
Election officials will then send out letters to the alleged non-citizen voters, giving them 30 days to provide proof of citizenship, said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
“Identifying ineligible registrations and removing them from the voter rolls is the first step toward restoring integrity to our electoral process,” James Dickey, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, said in a prepared statement Friday afternoon. “We can not afford voter fraud in 2020 and must stop this abuse now. It is a crime and it is damaging to our republic.”