Newly released emails signal that Gov. Greg Abbott pushed to speed up work on Texas’ efforts to cull its voter rolls of noncitizens, a claim his office strongly denies.
“This is patently false,” said John Wittman, an Abbott spokesman. “Neither the Governor, nor the Governor’s office gave a directive to initiate this process as the emails show. No one speaks for the Governor’s office, but the Governor’s office.”
In a batch of email conversations released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center — which represented plaintiffs in a subsequent lawsuit against the state — employees of the Texas Department of Public Safety discuss the production of data for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which in 2018 was trying to find ways to identify noncitizens on the state’s voter rolls.
“The Governor is interested in getting this information as soon as possible,” Amanda Arriaga, director of the driver’s license division for DPS, writes in an Aug. 27 email.
Later that day, an email from another DPS employee, John Crawford, says:
“We delivered this information earlier in the year, and we have an urgent request from the Governor’s office to do it again.”
It is unclear from the emails, however, what specific information those emails are referencing because the 46-page batch of emails cuts off in numerous places, making it difficult to understand the questions the DPS employees were answering.
Most of the conversations are DPS employees communicating with secretary of state employees on the technical aspects of producing the data and the challenges that presents. None of the emails cited are from the governor’s office and no employees from that office are included in the conversations.
The emails were obtained as part of a lawsuit against the state by the League of United Latin American Citizens and other civil rights groups that alleged the state’s citizenship review discriminated against naturalized citizens. The lawsuit — one of of three filed against the state — was settled in April.
The legal efforts began after former interim Secretary of State David Whitley issued an advisory on Jan. 25 that said DPS had identified nearly 100,000 on the state’s voter rolls who had applied for a driver’s license as noncitizens. About 58,000 of them had voted in one or more elections since 1996 and should be investigated by counties, his office said.
But critics quickly pointed out that people who applied for a driver’s license as noncitizens could have become citizens afterward and gained the right to vote. Noncitizens in the country legally can obtain driver’s licenses in Texas, and those do not expire for six years. Noncitizens are not required to update their driver’s license after gaining citizenship before their license expires.
The criticism and legal entanglements eventually sank Whitley’s hopes to be confirmed as secretary of state. The Texas Senate failed to confirm him before the legislative session ended last week. Arguing that his actions had disenfranchised an entire group of voters, Senate Democrats held together and blocked the two-thirds vote that Whitley needed to secure his job.
Whitley then returned to Abbott’s office, where he had worked prior to his appointment as secretary of state in December. Abbott must still appoint a new secretary of state to fill the vacancy.