State Rep. Rafael Anchia had been alarmed by the actions of the Texas secretary of state’s office for days by the time the agency’s chief, David Whitley, walked into the Dallas Democrat’s Capitol office on Monday. The Friday before, Whitley’s staff had issued a bombshell press release calling into question the citizenship of 95,000 registered voters in Texas. Soon after, Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups were raising serious questions about how many people on that list were actually non-citizens who are ineligible to vote. But before those doubts emerged, Whitley, the top election officer in the state, had handed over information about those registered voters to the Texas attorney general, which has the jurisdiction to prosecute them for felony crimes. So as Anchia sat at the end of his green, glass-topped conference table, he wanted to know: Did Whitley know for sure that any of the names on his list had committed crimes by voting as noncitizens? “No,” Whitley answered, according to Anchia.
“And I said, ‘Well, isn’t it the protocol that you investigate and, if you find facts, you turn it over to the AG?”
“I do not have an answer for that,” Whitley responded, according to Anchia’s recollection of the Monday meeting.
By then, Whitley’s press release had already been signal-boosted by top Republican officials — including President Donald Trump — who slapped on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and illegal voter registration and pointed to it as proof that voter rolls needed to be purged. And county election officials across the state had gone to work parsing through the records of thousands of registered voters whose citizenship status the state now said they should consider verifying. Some counties were even in the process of sending letters to voters ordering them to prove they were citizens.