Agreement between civil rights groups and state elections officials ends lawsuit over voter roll purge that discriminated against naturalized citizens
SAN ANTONIO — A group of civil rights organizations reached an agreement today with Texas state officials to settle a lawsuit challenging the creation and rollout of a flawed voter purge list that discriminated against naturalized citizens. Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the national ACLU Voting Rights Project, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed the lawsuit against Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Director of Elections Keith Ingram, as well as local elections officials in eight counties.
According to the terms of the settlement, the state will rescind its original advisory announcing the purge effort and agree to a new voter database maintenance process that is much more limited in scope. The state has also agreed to provide and maintain information regarding the implementation of the process. The plaintiffs will also retain the right to bring another challenge to the process if the state continues to discriminate or violate protected rights.
“This settlement acknowledges that naturalized Americans have full and equal voting rights — they cannot be singled out and purged from the rolls due to their status,” said Chiraag Bains, director of legal strategies at Demos. “The settlement is a victory for our clients and all in Texas who were wrongfully deemed ineligible to vote. The secretary’s actions were reckless and misguided, and we hope that other states will take note and avoid similar unlawful actions.”
“After months of litigation, the state has finally agreed to do what we’ve demanded from the start — a complete withdrawal of the flawed and discriminatory voter purge list, bringing this failed experiment in voter suppression to an end,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “The right to vote is sacrosanct, and no eligible voter should have to worry about losing that right. We are glad that the state has agreed to give up this misguided effort to eliminate people from the voter rolls, and we will continue to monitor any future voter purge attempt by the state to ensure that no eligible Texan loses their voice in our democracy.”
“Three months after the state released a discriminatory and flawed voter purge list, they have finally agreed to completely withdraw the advisory that risked throwing tens of thousands of potentially eligible voters off the rolls,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “State officials have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and struck fear and confusion into thousands of voters in order to pursue their voter suppression agenda. We are glad that this particular effort was stopped in its tracks and we will remain vigilant to ensure that not one single voter loses their right to vote due to the actions of state officials.”
“While we are glad to see this program scrapped, it’s important to remember that the state not only began to disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters, but also threatened them with criminal prosecution,” said Brendan Downes, associate counsel with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project. “Naturalized citizens are, by definition, Americans. It’s time for the state to start treating them that way.”
“Secretary Whitley’s agreement to scrap what the court called a ‘ham-handed’ process and implement these common sense changes will go a long way to protecting eligible naturalized citizens from being improperly purged from the rolls,” said Sophia Lakin, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “We will continue to monitor the secretary and counties to protect eligible Texas voters from discriminatory barriers to the ballot box.”
“The League regrets that it took a lawsuit to remind our state officials that naturalized citizens have a right to vote and to fully participate in our democracy,” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. “We are hopeful that new procedures will prevent naturalized citizens from being treated as second class citizens. We will continue to work with the secretary of state, as the chief election officer for Texas, to protect all citizens’ right to vote.”
“When the secretary of state tried to discriminate against eligible voters in a dangerous voter purge, we stood up to challenge this egregious act of voter suppression. Today, we won,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas Civic Fund. “Young naturalized citizens no longer have to worry about this reckless voter purge impacting their constitutional right to vote. We will continue to fight for all young voters across the state.”
In January, the secretary of state’s office claimed that as many as 95,000 individuals identified by the Department of Public Safety as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in Texas. The lawsuit — filed on behalf of three nonprofits: Move Texas Civic Fund, Jolt Initiative, and the League of Women Voters of Texas — argued that Texas officials created and sent a flawed advisory to counties that flagged tens of thousands of registered voters for citizen reviews, despite knowing that the list included naturalized citizens eligible to vote. In February, a federal judge ordered the state to stop the purge of naturalized citizens from the rolls while the lawsuit proceeded.