Democratic Senators Urged To Unite Against Texas’ Top Voting Official

By By Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman

In a letter hand delivered Thursday to the Capitol, 35 civil rights, political and advocacy groups urged Democratic state senators to oppose the confirmation of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, saying his handling of a citizenship investigation of registered voters proves he is “unfit to serve in that office.”

If all 12 Senate Democrats stand firm, the letter said, Whitley would be denied the support of two-thirds of senators needed to continue serving as secretary of state, Texas’ top elections officer.

“Each of you has affirmed your personal commitment to protecting voting rights and reject discrimination; now, you have a duty to vote against Mr. Whitley’s confirmation,” said the letter from Battleground Texas, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, NAACP Texas, the state Democratic Party and the Texas AFL-CIO, among others.

About a half-dozen Democrats have said they will vote against Whitley. No Democrat has publicly said they support his confirmation.

Whitley’s nomination, however, has yet to get a vote in the Senate Nominations Committee, which did not consider his confirmation Thursday for the second consecutive weekly meeting.

The committee chairwoman, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, declined to discuss the delay. “Nothing to talk about right now,” she said after the committee meeting.

In Thursday’s letter, the groups criticized Whitley for a Jan. 25 press release that claimed an investigation by his office uncovered 98,000 potential noncitizens who had registered to vote, including 58,000 who had cast at least one ballot. Only later did Whitley reveal that his office knew that the list of suspect voters likely included a substantial number of people who had become naturalized U.S. citizens who had a legal right to vote.

Even so, the letter noted, Whitley referred the entire list to the attorney general’s office for investigation and possible prosecution for illegal voting and vote registration.

“Mr. Whitley’s actions demonstrate a level of incompetence that we cannot accept in a position tasked to protect and advance our most fundamental rights of civic participation,” the letter said.

Whitley defended his actions during his Feb. 7 confirmation hearing before the Nominations Committee, saying the investigation was based on citizenship data that was the best available from the Department of Public Safety.

He also characterized the investigation as a process, with his office comparing voter rolls with DPS data on noncitizens, then providing matching names to counties for further investigation as required by state law. County elections officials have more pertinent information at hand than is available to his office, he said.

Whitley has been named in three lawsuits that seek to block the investigation, leading to two days of hearings this week in San Antonio federal court, with additional court dates expected, on a lawsuit filed by he League of United Latin American Citizens and its Texas branch.

A lawsuit filed in Corpus Christi on behalf of seven naturalized citizens has been transferred and consolidated with the San Antonio case, and state lawyers have asked a U.S. judge in Galveston to transfer the third lawsuit to San Antonio as well.

This article provided by NewsEdge.