Lawsuit states that creation and rollout of flawed voter purge list discriminated against naturalized citizens
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 4, 2019
Imelda Mejia, ACLU of Texas, email@example.com, 346-299-6803
Zenén Jaimes Pérez, TCRP, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-914-5905
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU, email@example.com, 347-514-3984
Jenifer Fenton, Demos, firstname.lastname@example.org 646-255-3054
Derrick Robinson, Lawyers’ Committee, Derrick Robinson, 202-866-6317
Civil Rights Organizations Sue Texas Officials Over Attempted Voter Purge
GALVESTON, Texas – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the national ACLU, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Demos, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed today a lawsuit against the Texas Secretary of State David Whitley for the creation and rollout of a flawed voter purge list that discriminates against naturalized citizens. The lawsuit also includes election officials from Galveston, Blanco, Fayette, Caldwell, and Washington counties for sending out notices threatening to cancel voter registrations based on the list.
The lawsuit claims 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.
The groups also sent Secretary Whitely a pre-litigation notice letter stating that he has 90 days to halt the purge or face additional legal challenges under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which permits states only to remove ineligible voters from the list and prohibits discriminatory purges.
“The right to vote is sacrosanct. Yet, the Texas Secretary of State has engaged in a sloppy exercise that threatens to unfairly strip people of the opportunity to participate in American democracy,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Even after we told Texas officials that this would happen, they doubled down on this failed experiment and left us with no other recourse but to take this to court. We look forward to ensuring that all eligible Texas voters can make their voices heard on election day.”
“There is no question that Secretary Whitley released a flawed and inaccurate advisory that risks throwing thousands of eligible voters off the rolls,” said Beth Stevens, Voting Rights Legal Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Our lawsuit seeks to put the brakes on this voter suppression by rescinding the flawed advisory. Not one single eligible Texan should lose the right to vote because state officials have decided to pursue a radical anti-voter agenda.”
“The Texas Secretary of State simply chose to assume the worst,” said Brendan Downes, Associate Counsel with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project. “The idea that nearly 100,000 non-citizens knowingly and willfully registered to vote, thereby risking deportation and threatening the well-being of themselves and their families, is an absurdity. That assumption is now endangering the voting rights of thousands of qualified voters. It’s a hell of a welcome mat for people who have recently become citizens of this country. You have to question why the Secretary didn’t do more to ensure that everyone who should be on the rolls stays on the rolls.”
“This exercise is a thinly veiled attempt to advance the voter fraud myth to justify restrictive voter requirements and suppress voting rights,” said Sophia Lakin, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “We’re suing Texas for rolling out this error-ridden voter purge program that unlawfully targets and threatens the voting rights of eligible and duly registered naturalized citizens.”
“Texas is stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment, undermining the public’s faith in our democracy, and preparing to purge thousands of eligible citizens from the rolls,” said Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies at Demos. “The Secretary of State is relying on information he knows to be out-of-date and unreliable. He is intentionally targeting new Americans and people of color in order to decrease minority voter participation, in flagrant violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. We’re asking the federal court to stop the state from undermining the fundamental right to vote.”
“Texas officials launched a voter purge with a big splash and inaccurate data,” said Grace Chimene, President of the League of Women Voters of Texas. “The League of Women Voters of Texas is calling on the Texas Secretary of State to rescind the Elections Advisory and join with the League to celebrate naturalized citizens who register to vote and assure these citizens that their vote matters and will be counted.”
“Our democracy is stronger when everyone has a seat at the table. But elected officials at the highest level of office are fighting tooth and nail to deprive Texans of their right to vote. The right to vote was won through centuries of struggle, and we continue that struggle today to expand access to the ballot box for all eligible voters,” said Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, Founder and Executive Director of Jolt Initiative.
“The Texas Secretary of State’s misguided advisory attempted to suppress the voting rights of new citizens and people of color by weaponizing a myth about the prevalence of illegitimate voters,” said H. Drew Galloway, Executive Director of MOVE Texas Civic Fund. “Voter purges transform civic participation into a hostile activity, where one’s identity and legitimacy as a citizen is repeatedly questioned. Instead of scrutinizing legitimate voters who are earnest and eager to participate, the State of Texas should be creating policy to make voting more welcoming, more accessible, and more inclusive for the health of our democracy.”
The case was filed on behalf of four nonprofits – MOVE Texas Civic Fund, Jolt Initiative, League of Women Voters of Texas, and NAACP of Texas – whose members include naturalized citizens and which conduct voter registration services at naturalization ceremonies. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking that the court declare that the Secretary of State’s advisory violates the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act and that it block all Texas counties from sending notices to individuals requiring them to prove their citizenship on the basis of the purge list, or from removing any registered voter from the voter rolls based on a failure to respond to such letters.
The groups are also sending Secretary Whitely a pre-litigation notice letter stating that he has 90 days to halt the purge or face additional legal challenges under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which permits states only to remove ineligible voters from the list and prohibits discriminatory purges.
The complaint is available at: https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/move_et_al._v._whitley_et_al.pdf