Suspect voter list stirs fears, surprises counties

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

When the Texas Secretary of State’s office announced Jan. 25 that it had a list of 95,000 non-citizens who had a matching voting record in the state, it unleashed a nation-wide wave of fear of voter fraud.

But it didn’t take long for officials at the county level across the state to demonstrate that all wasn’t what it seemed.

“I think what we saw was a premature release of a list that should have never happened,” said State Rep. John Bucy, D-Leander. “I think it’s going to disenfranchise a lot of voters in Texas. I know just meeting with the elections administrator in Williamson County that over 50 percent of that list have been removed just in the first two days of cross referencing and they told me that list is going to get significantly smaller.”

The news of the list spread quickly as counties began working on how to work through it.

“Because of the way it was done so cavalierly we’ve seen it escalate in the social media realm, too, from the President Tweeting about it to the Attorney General Tweeting about it and saying inflammatory things that shouldn’t be said,” Bucy said. “I think both of them accused every person on that list of voting illegally and obviously we know that is a lie and inaccurate and I think it is on us as elected officials to be cautious when looking at data and making sure we are always following the laws, but also making sure we never infringe on the right of someone to vote.”

Here in Williamson County, Elections Administrator Chris Davis said his office has been working to determine who among the 2,033 persons listed should and should not be on the portion of the list sent to the county.

“We’ve been able to reduce that list by 51.45 percent already,” Davis said. “We’re already down to less than half. We’re still researching these names and trying to find ways – and talking to other counties to see if they have found ways – to cull this list down even further. We’re pretty certain there are citizens still on this list.”

The task of going through the list to verify whether an individual was legally registered to vote is something Davis said his office does regularly with the amount of growth in Williamson County, but this list has proven much more difficult to work with.

“The kind of work we do with this list we do regularly in maintaining voter registration roles,” he said. “The scale of this is a little different. The quality of the data is very different, not in a good way, compared to what we’re used to with our list. That’s our biggest challenge is the quality of this data.”

On Jan. 29, Davis said his office was given a list of names the Secretary of State’s Office had already identified as incorrectly included on the original list.

“I asked for it in writing,” Davis said of the phone call instructions from the Secretary of State’s Office. “They have yet to give that to me in writing, but we have removed those names and we have also asked for a revised and better list. We are still waiting for that.”

In working with other counties, in particular Bexar County, Davis said they have been able to remove a number of other names as well.

“We’re left with this remainder, which we still have a lot of questions about – questions about the accuracy and integrity of it – and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a whole lot more folks naturalized on this list,” Davis said.

The original list was put together by the Secretary of State’s Office in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety, then sent to counties to research.

“The Secretary of State sent this list of 95,000 people to 254 counties and anyone on their list they were told they might need to look into it,” Bucy said. “Instead of having a top down approach where they would have cleaned the list first, now each county is having to individually clean the list up without near the resources that the Secretary of State has.”

What is suspected by Bucy is that many on the list at one time had a type of ID flagged as being one a non-citizen might have and also had a voting record at some point in the last 22 years.

“What really I think we’re going to find is the Secretary of State sent out a list that they should have scrubbed first,” Bucy said. “The data went back over 20 years and indicated these people at one point or another had a type of ID that indicated they were not a citizen.”

While Williamson County is doing its own thorough research on the list, some other counties have chosen a different approach that concerns both Davis and Bucy.

“Unfortunately, there are areas like Galveston County where they have already decided to send letters to the people on the list from their county,” Bucy said. “Counties were not required to do that by this but they have that option, and if you send that letter you trigger a 30-day announcement. At that point if you don’t respond within 30 days to verify your citizenship you will be removed from the roles.”

The letters sent out by other counties are not even being considered at this point in the process for Williamson County.

“We’re nowhere near being in a position to be ready to send out these letters,” Davis said. “Once these letters go out, a 30-day countdown begins and if folks don’t respond to this letter they are going to be removed from the roles. It starts a whole series of events that we’re not ready to start yet.”

No timetable was given by Davis regarding how long it may take his office to complete its research into the remaining list.

“We’re charged as voter registrars with maintaining an accurate list,” he said. “We’re also charged, I think, with doing no harm to eligible voters who have done nothing wrong. We’re in a sticky situation right now where doing something like that put those two charges in conflict with each other.”

Down in Austin, Bucy said as a member of the Elections Committee in the House of Representatives, he would continue to work to get answers about how the list came about and how it was handled by the Secretary of State.

“Some of my colleagues on the Elections Committee with me, we have reached out to the Secretary of State with a letter requesting information,” he said. “We hope to have hearings on this and help continue to bring this issue to light and make sure no one that has the right to vote has that taken away from them.”

District 20 State Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, did not respond to requests for an interview on this issue.

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