Bad week for Texas Secretary of State; good one for civil rights

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who categorize everyone into groups, and those who don’t.

Those who do it have had a decidedly bad week, nationally and here in Texas.

Nationally, the nonprofit and highly respected journalism organization Poynter Institute released, then had to walk back, its list of some 500 “unreliable” news outlets because, as one news report put it, the list itself was unreliable.

“We detected inconsistencies between the findings of the original databases that were the sources for the list and our own rendering of the final report,” Poynter managing editor Barbara Allen admitted Thursday, just days after the list’s release. “Therefore, we are removing this unreliable sites list until we are able to provide our audience a more consistent and rigorous set of criteria. ...

“We regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the confusion and agitation caused by its publication. We pledge to continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards.”

We have no doubt this was an honest, apolitical mistake, though it was a huge one that some argued smacked of anti-conservative bias. We have no doubt the dedicated professionals at Poynter have learned from this.

We can only hope the same for those at the highest reaches of Texas government — whose own mass-release list mistake seemed much more political.

After disseminating in January, to much fanfare, a list of about 95,000 alleged noncitizens registered to vote in Texas, Secretary of State David Whitley — who’d tasked local elections officials with combing through the list — officially ended the review on Monday.

The embarrassing but richly warranted pullback is part of a settlement to close the books on federal lawsuits by civil rights groups against the state over the miserably handled list which, it turns out, didn’t reflect reality. The Secretary of State’s Office, for example, had alleged a possible 58,000 illegal votes were cast from 1996-2018 — but inexplicably, the office didn’t take into account, among other things, those who’d become naturalized citizens over the years.

Whatever your view of illegal immigration, it’s unconscionable for the Texas Secretary of State to have so recklessly caused a tsunami of fear throughout the Lone Star State’s immigrant community. Imagine having done nothing wrong, and indeed having gone through the arduous naturalization process, only to have your state question your citizenship and essentially accuse you of a crime.

And consider what it accomplished — which is to say, nothing good.

The entire misguided exercise in the Secretary of State’s Office had to cost tens of thousands if not more. Worse yet, as part of the settlement the state had to commit $450,000 in taxpayer funds to cover legal costs, including plaintiffs’ attorney fees. Nice going.

Besides the fear engendered and the dollars wasted, the Secretary of State clumsily delivered an enormous black eye for the Republican-led government and to the cause of election integrity — which is a legitimate concern, but which now looks hopelessly overstated due to the bumbling in Austin.

Legitimate voters have a right not to be harassed by an overly suspicious government that sees an illegal voter behind every tree. That right was violated by this overzealous snipe hunt.

In 2019 America, civil rights abuses can also be overstated. But this was definitely one.