Civil rights groups have launched lawsuits accusing Texas officials of compiling a flawed list of voters that could see thousands of naturalized citizens wrongly expunged from electoral rolls, sparking a fierce political fight over alleged voter suppression. Four Texas-based organisations are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on Monday that asks a federal court to stop the state from enacting an “unlawful purge” based on the flagging of about 95,000 people as potentially illegally registered to vote. It follows legal action initiated last week by Hispanic rights groups who contend the state is pursuing a voter suppression tactic that is likely to have a strong impact on minorities’ democratic rights. “This list is simply a way to target US citizens who are foreign-born as opposed to being any genuine effort to identify non-US citizens on the voter rolls,” said Nina Perales, vice-president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
As part of an eleven-months long effort by the office of the Texas secretary of state and the Texas department of public safety to identify suspected voter fraud, officials produced a list of names by cross-referencing voter registration information with the details of people who said they were not US citizens when obtaining a drivers’ license. Of 95,000 names, 58,000 people had voted as long ago as 1996, the state said.
The state sent the data to counties for investigation along with an advisory on 25 January cautioning them that the records “will need to be treated as WEAK matches”.
It swiftly became clear that many were wrongly flagged, but not before leading Texas Republicans seized on the list and insinuated that it signified criminality on a massive scale. The Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, trumpeted the news with a Twitter post that began: “VOTER FRAUD ALERT”.