On Jan. 25, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted a “VOTER FRAUD ALERT” that quickly rocketed around the internet. Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, Paxton asserted, had discovered that approximately “95,000 individuals identified” as non-citizens are registered to vote in the state, “58,000 of whom have voted” in Texas elections. Whitley promptly urged counties to begin purging these 95,000 people from their voter rolls, demanding proof of citizenship within 30 days or canceling their registrations. Donald Trump joined the action, tweeting on Jan. 27 that Whitley’s numbers “are just the tip of iceberg.” Voter fraud, Trump wrote, “is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!”
Within days of Paxton’s alarming tweet, Whitley had substantially backtracked. The secretary of state quietly informed county officials that a “significant number” of people on the list are actually citizens. Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram acknowledged that these were “WEAK matches,” a “starting point” rather than a definitive list. In Harris County alone, about 18,000 names were removed from the initial list of alleged non-citizens. Some county officials, however, had already begun to notify residents on that first list that they had 30 days to prove their citizenship or lose their ability to vote.
The situation in Texas is a mess. But it is a dangerous mess. Paxton, a notorious foe of voting rights, is creating chaos and confusion in order to justify a radical purge of Texas’ voter rolls. As three new lawsuits filed by an array of civil rights groups argue, this purge isn’t just slapdash and sloppy—it’s discriminatory and illegal. Paxton and his allies are taking a page from Kris Kobach’s playbook of shock and awe: Toss out a wildly inflated claim of non-citizen voting, then use the ensuing panic to justify mass disenfranchisement. It is a dirty and duplicitous tactic. And thanks to America’s increasingly conservative judiciary, it might actually succeed.
Texas’ voter fraud pandemonium is actually a combination of Kobach’s two favorite moves: creating dubious lists of allegedly fraudulent voters to disenfranchise, and forcing people to prove citizenship in order to cast a ballot. Whitley’s purge list was created using a profoundly flawed method: His office identified individuals who presented documents indicating that they were not citizens when obtaining or renewing driver’s licenses, using Department of Public Safety records dating back to 1996. It then cross-referenced this list with voter rolls to come up with the numbers Paxton quoted—95,000 aliens registered to vote, 58,000 of whom have cast a ballot.