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Civil Rights Organizations Suing Over Texas Voter Citizenship Review

TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Civil rights organizations are suing Texas officials about alleged plans to purge thousands of naturalized citizens from its voter rolls, a move that intentionally targets minority voters, according to their lawsuit.

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 a lawsuit against the Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Director of Elections Keith Ingram 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 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."

The lawsuit claims that Texas officials created and sent a flawed advisory to counties that flagged tens of thousands of registered voters for citizenship reviews, despite knowing that the list included naturalized citizens eligible to vote.

"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."

Whitley said his office has identified 95,000 non-citizens who are currently registered to vote in of Texas -- 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more election.

Texas Secretary of State spokesman Sam Taylor says they "are very confident" the citizenship data used is current.

But the organizations who have filed suit disagree.

"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."

voter fraud
voter fraud (CBS11)

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. 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.

"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."

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.

"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 in recent years has aggressively prosecuted voter fraud cases and has one of the nation's toughest voter ID laws.

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