Texas Voting Chief Who Led Botched Voter Purge Resigns

May 28, 2019
Originally published on May 28, 2019 7:00 pm

A version of this story was first posted by member station KUT in Austin.

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, who was behind the botched effort to remove alleged noncitizens from the state's voter rolls, resigned Monday as the Texas Legislature's session came to a close.

Whitley, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in December, needed a two-thirds vote from the state Senate to be permanently confirmed to the position, but voting-rights groups put pressure on Texas Democrats to stop the confirmation following his voter purge efforts.

This year, Whitley's office sent local election officials a list of more than 90,000 people on the voter rolls that it suspected might not be citizens. Whitley, the state's chief elections officer, asked officials to vet the list and possibly remove those names from voter rolls.

The list was compiled by flagging the names of people who at one point told the Texas Department of Public Safety that they were not citizens and then also registered to vote within several years.

Immigrant-rights groups and voting-rights groups accused the state of intentionally targeting recently naturalized citizens, who have the right to vote.

In his resignation letter, Whitley alluded to controversy around his tenure, writing, "I built a bridge for opposing voices to engage in dialogue to improve election integrity and access."

Under the Texas Constitution, lawmakers must confirm appointments before the legislative session officially ends. If they don't, the appointee has to immediately vacate the position, and the governor must choose someone else. That person serves in the position until lawmakers weigh in during a regular session.

Resistance from Democrats presumably held up Whitley's confirmation vote in the Texas Senate.

David Whitley, pictured arriving for his confirmation hearing on Feb. 7, resigned as Texas secretary of state on Monday.
Eric Gay / AP

In the final days of the session, a coalition of voting-rights groups, civil rights groups and immigrant-rights groups sent a letter to Texas Democrats urging them to "turn the page on the Whitley purge scandal by continuing to remain united against Mr. Whitley's confirmation."

"No one can trust that Mr. Whitley will act any differently than these initial revealed instincts once this layer of accountability — the confirmation process — is removed," the groups said in a statement on Friday.

Whitley's voter-removal effort was halted by a federal court in February. State officials eventually settled the matter with voting-rights groups and Texas voters. The state is now prohibited from attempting a similar voter purge.

Voting-rights groups say they are also relieved that Texas lawmakers did not pass a sweeping voting bill that would have potentially increased criminal penalties for voting errors, such as putting incorrect information on a voter registration form. Groups say those penalties could have also affected voters who make simple mistakes at the polls, among other things.

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