Embattled Texas Secretary of State David Whitley resigned on Monday after overseeing a botched effort to purge the state’s voter rolls of noncitizens, an effort voting rights advocates criticized as an attack on democracy.
Whitley had served in the role since December after being nominated by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R). In order to stay in the job, however, he had to be confirmed by the state Senate before the chamber ended its 2019 session on Monday. He needed 21 votes and garnered 19 from every Republican in the chamber. But all 12 Democrats voted against him after lambasting his efforts to purge the rolls.
Democrats’ frustrations centered around claims first raised by Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) in January that 98,000 noncitizens had potentially registered to vote, and that tens of thousands had illegally cast ballots since 1996. Critics quickly found, however, that many of those names were listed in error and thousands of people were actually naturalized U.S. citizens who were eligible to vote.
By then, President Donald Trump had already pounced on the news, parroting the claims on his personal Twitter account and deeming voter fraud throughout Texas “rampant.”
Officials said last month that they would end the controversial review of the voting rolls amid multiple federal lawsuits. The state said it would pay $450,000 in legal fees as part of the settlement and that officials would be unable to use any information gathered during the botched inquiry to cancel anyone’s voter registration in the future.
In his resignation letter, Whitley thanked the governor for his appointment but did not mention the inquiry that led to his departure.
“Working alongside the employees in the secretary of state’s office, county election officials, and representatives of our #1 trading partner, Mexico, has been my distinct honor and privilege,” Whitley wrote in the letter, first obtained by the Austin American-Statesman. “And to have your trust in doing so goes beyond what I ever dreamed of as a kid growing up in a small South Texas community.”
Texas Democrats celebrated Whitley’s departure, noting that he is the first gubernatorial nominee in modern history be blocked by an opposition party.
“David Whitley proved he wasn’t fit for the job the second he launched his failed effort to purge eligible Texas voters from the voting rolls,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the state’s Democratic Party, said in a statement. “It was long overdue for David Whitley to vacate his office and now it’s time for Governor Abbott to appoint a new Secretary of State who will respect our democracy and our great state.”