Last week, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office settled lawsuits against it, which claimed that the office unlawfully tried to purge the state’s voter rolls. Now, taxpayer money will go toward paying the $450,000 in plaintiffs’ lawyers’ fees for that settlement.
John Moritz covers Texas politics for the USA Today Network, and says the Secretary of State’s Office has agreed to tell county voter registrars that they don’t need to pursue voters the office had previously suspected of being non-citizens.
Moritz says the list of suspected non-citizens came from Department of Public Safety driver’s license data. The Secretary of State’s Office used that same data, but Moritz says the problem is that that data doesn’t indicate citizenship status.
“In some of the cases, somebody might have been a legal resident but a non-citizen – [they] have a driver’s license, and so their name appears on the driver’s license rolls,” Moritz says. “Then, lo and behold, they go through the process, they become citizens; there’s nothing on the driver’s license to say you’re a citizen or not.”
He says citizens got “lumped in” with non-citizens on the list compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office, and that’s what it sent to county election officials.
“There were 95,000 to 100,000 names on the list, but clearly, many of those were, in fact, citizens – had every right to vote in our election,” Moritz says.
In terms of restitution for those who had been purged from the voter rolls, Moritz says they’ll simply be allowed to vote again. The money the state’s paying in the settlement will go toward plaintiffs’ lawyers’ fees, not to the voters.
“Legally, it might say that they were not harmed long term. They were definitely harmed in the short term, but that’s been ameliorated,” Moritz says. “I didn’t see any mention of compensation to those who brought the suit.”
Texas’ acting Secretary of State David Whitley has not yet been confirmed by the full state Senate because of the voter roll controversy. If he’s not confirmed by the end of the legislative session, he will lose his job, but Moritz says the settlement could help save it.
But he also says Texas Democrats aren’t happy with Whitley’s conduct, and it’s possible they wouldn’t support his confirmation.
“Voter rights has long been sort of like the holy grail for the Democratic constituencies, and so I don’t know of many Democratic politicians who want to face their primary voter saying, ‘Oh yeah, I gave some ground on voter rights.’”
Written by Caroline Covington.