POLITICS

House Democrats Expand Voter Suppression Probe To Include Texas And Kansas

The committee wants to know more about a controversial effort to review the voter rolls in Texas and a decision to move a polling place in Kansas.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform announced Thursday it was widening its probe of voter suppression allegations in the 2018 midterm elections and asked officials in Texas and Kansas to provide extensive communications related to recent controversial election changes.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chair of the committee, and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Secretary of State David Whitley asking for communications regarding a January announcement from Whitley’s office that nearly 100,000 suspected noncitizens were on the state’s voter rolls. Paxton had sent out a press release suggesting there was voter fraud, and Whitley’s office told local officials they could investigate and remove people from the rolls if they determined they were not citizens.

But a review of the state’s data quickly showed substantial errors. At least 25,000 people included on the list were, in fact, citizens. A federal judge blocked the state from removing anyone from the rolls in February.

The committee requested a wide range of documents, including internal communications of the attorney general and secretary of state’s offices and correspondence with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Civil rights groups accuse the officials of blasting out unverified and inflated allegations of voter fraud to scare voters.

“The Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating recent efforts by your office to purge voter rolls in Texas,” Cummings and Raskin wrote in their letters to Paxton and Whitley. “We are disturbed by reports that your office has taken steps to remove thousands of eligible American voters from the rolls in Texas and that you have referred many of these Americans for possible criminal prosecution for exercising their right to vote.”

While Whitley initially said he was referring the names of suspected noncitizen voters to Paxton’s office for investigation, it’s unclear if the attorney general is pursuing charges against anyone on the list.

“We are reviewing the letter and look forward to providing the committee with information that demonstrates our compliance with the law while ensuring free and fair elections,” Jeff Mateer, first assistant attorney general, said in an emailed statement. A Whitley spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Voters, mostly students, wait to vote at a primary election polling site on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas,
Voters, mostly students, wait to vote at a primary election polling site on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, on March 6, 2018.

Cummings and Raskin also wrote to Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab (R) and Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox regarding her last-minute decision to move the only polling site in Dodge City, which is nearly 60 percent Hispanic, to a location that’s difficult to reach by public transportation. The ACLU unsuccessfully sued to get Cox to open a second voting location, but Cox has since pledged to open more polling locations for future elections.

The House Democrats asked Schwab and Cox to provide a range of communications with government officials, including with the office of then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who was a candidate for governor in 2018.

Cummings and Raskin said they were particularly interested in the role Kobach played in determining whether to move the polling site.

“Just before the election, Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey publicly dismissed concerns about the decision. The Committee is seeking to determine the role of the Secretary of State’s office in moving the polling site,” the lawmakers wrote.

Katie Koupal, a Schwab spokeswoman, said the secretary of state was reviewing the letter and would “respond accordingly.” Cox did not immediately return a request for comment. 

The committee unveiled its voter suppression probe earlier this month when it announced it was seeking records from Georgia officials regarding problems voters faced during the 2018 elections.

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) narrowly defeated Stacey Abrams there in the state’s gubernatorial race, but Abrams maintains Kemp’s victory can be attributed to voter suppression.

This story has been updated with comment from the Texas attorney general’s office and the Kansas secretary of state’s office.

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