Texas officials contacted local election administrators on Tuesday to tell them that a list of suspected noncitizens on their voter rolls was inaccurate and actually contained the names of citizens.
The concession is significant because Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and President Donald Trump immediately seized on the list of 95,000 people on the voter rolls who were suspected of being noncitizens as evidence of voter fraud in Texas.
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley (R) identified potential noncitizens by comparing noncitizens who got driver’s licenses against the state’s voter rolls. That methodology drew immediate outcry from critics, who said people who are naturalized after getting their driver’s licenses would still be flagged as noncitizens.
But on Tuesday morning, representatives of the Texas secretary of state’s office began contacting local officials to inform them that at least some of the voters on the list were citizens. They also told county officials there were more people who may have been naturalized and were eligible to vote.
In Harris County, which encompasses Houston, the Texas secretary of state’s office initially flagged 29,822 names as potential noncitizens on the rolls. But Douglas Ray, a county attorney, said state officials told them those names included people who initially got a driver’s license as noncitizens and then registered to vote at the DMV after becoming naturalized. State officials had validated the citizenship of those people, Ray said, and they were erroneously included on the list.
Ray said Wednesday that officials believe almost 18,000 names should be removed from the list the secretary of state’s office provided because they were citizens. An additional 400 were duplicates. Of the 29,822 names initially referred, the county had 11,500 remaining to investigate.
“Given the proven unreliability of the list so far, we are going to proceed very slowly and carefully in our investigation before we take any further steps,” he said in an email.
Bruce Elfant, the tax assessor-collector and voter registrar in Travis County, which includes the state capital, Austin, said he had a similar conversation with the secretary of state’s office on Tuesday. State officials told his office that people who registered to vote after getting their driver’s license could potentially be citizens. The secretary of state’s office initially flagged 4,547 names for Elfant as potentially noncitizens, but he said he expects that number to substantially drop.
The Texas Tribune reported that officials in Fort Bend, Collin and Williamson counties had also been contacted by the state. In El Paso County, election administrator Lisa Wise told HuffPost on Tuesday that she immediately recognized at least one error on the list because it included the name of a recently naturalized citizen in her office.
After counties were notified of potential noncitizens on their rolls, they were authorized to begin investigating suspected noncitizens, which could include sending people notices asking them to prove their citizenship within 30 days or be removed from the rolls. Critics said such an effort unfairly targeted naturalized citizens and unlawfully intimidated voters.
On Friday, Sam Taylor, a spokesman for Whitley, told The New York Times he didn’t see a situation where the list could contain a “false positive.” On Tuesday, Taylor said the secretary of state’s office was providing updated information to voters.
“As part of the process of ensuring that no eligible voters are impacted by any list maintenance activity, we are continuing to provide information to the counties to assist them in verifying eligibility of Texas voters,” he said in a statement. “This is to ensure that any registered voters who provided proof of citizenship at the time they registered to vote will not be required to provide proof of citizenship as part of the counties’ examination.”
Elfant said the early accusations of voter fraud were unhelpful.
“These allegations of widespread voter fraud are premature and irresponsible. I certainly stand by that statement,” he said. “The story has changed significantly, and we haven’t even started to investigate yet. We don’t know where this is going to end up. It could be we have a serious issue in Texas and maybe we don’t. But statements like that only serve to undermine the integrity of our elections.”
This story has been updated with more details about the list in Harris County.