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No, There Were Not 58,000 Noncitizen Voters In Texas

Over the weekend a story from Texas hit the internet that there 58,000 noncitizens had voted in Texas elections. The story originated with the Texas Secretary of State and said that a total of 95,000 noncitizens were registered to vote in Texas. The story quickly hit the conservative media and was even picked up by President Trump, who said in a tweet, “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant.” The only problem was that the story as reported by many outlets was not true.

The story of tens of thousands of illegal votes should have raised suspicions from the outset. Texas has a strict voter ID law that requires photo identification for most voters unless they cannot reasonably obtain one. The most common form of photo identification, a Texas driver’s license, requires proof of US citizenship or legal immigration status. The first question on the Texas voter registration application is “Are you a US citizen?” As recently as 2018 courts have ruled that states cannot require proof of citizenship to vote, but voting if you know that you are ineligible is second-class felony in Texas. The heavily Republican Lone Star State, would be an unlikely place to allow hordes of noncitizens to fraudulently vote.

The story originated with a statement by the office of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley that was described by the Dallas Morning News on Friday. The News article, which led with the statement, “About 58,000 non-U.S. citizens who were legally in the country voted in one or more elections over a 22-year period,” also included the caveat that critics called the statistic questionable, but the nuances of the story were quickly lost on many readers and some media outlets.

In his statement, Whitley said, “Approximately 95,000 individuals identified by [the Department of Public Safety] have a matching voter registration record in Texas, approximately 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more Texas elections.”

“DPS has documents on file for all these individuals indicating that they are currently not U.S. citizens,” the statement said. “All of these [95,000] had some sort of proof of lawful presence on file, but are not full citizens.”

Despite the language of the DPS statement, an advisory to election administrators and voter registrars sent the same day, the Texas director of elections said that the 95,000 name matches between legal immigrants and voter rolls should be considered “WEAK.” The capitalization of the word was used in the advisory for emphasis.

The original statement by the Secretary of State did not specify the time period over which the 58,000 immigrants allegedly voted, but Sam Taylor, a spokesman for Whitley, told reporters, “The dates in which the [58,000] voted range from 1996-2018,” a period of 22 years.

Taylor also said, “We didn’t perform any analysis other than the number registered and the number who had voting history.”

The flaw in the DPS report is that there was no effort to determine whether the voters who had records indicating that they were noncitizens were still noncitizens at the time they voted. Critics of the report point out that the voters could have been naturalized before they registered to vote.

“Texas has one of the largest rates of naturalization in the U.S., with about 50,000 Texas residents becoming naturalized citizens each year,” Beth Stevens of the Texas Civil Rights Project said in a statement which warned that the report and “the subsequent fanning of the flames by the @TXAG… threaten to remove thousands of potentially eligible voters from the roles [sic].”

Chad Dunn, a Houston elections lawyer and general counsel to the Texas Democratic Party noted that there is no list of US citizens that could be cross-checked by DPS and said that testimony from a lawsuit over the state’s voter ID law showed that election “databases are such a mess that they couldn’t tell anything meaningful from them.”

Keith Ingram, the Texas director of elections, seems to agree that the data produced by DPS was not definitive proof of illegal voting. “The goal was to produce actionable information voter registrars could use to assist in their list maintenance responsibilities,” Ingram said in the advisory to elections officials. He added that local elections officials could choose to investigate voters flagged by DPS or “take no action on the voter record if the voter registrar determines that there is no reason to believe the voter is ineligible.”

Stevens added in her statement, “The secretary’s actions threaten to result in tens of thousands of eligible voters being removed from the roles, including those with the least resources to comply with the demand to show papers.”

The threat of stripping legal voters from the rolls also appears to be overblown, however. The advisory notice stipulates, “Counties are not permitted, under current Texas law, to immediately cancel the voter as a result of any non-U.S. Citizen matching information provided.” Voters can be canceled if they respond to that they are not citizens or if they do not respond to a proof of citizenship request from the state.

A statement by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in response to the DPS statement noted, “From 2005-2017, the attorney general’s office prosecuted 97 defendants for numerous voter fraud violations.” This is far short of the 58,000 voters alleged to have voted illegally.

The bottom line is that Texas has identified tens of thousands of people who were noncitizens and who are now registered to vote. There is no evidence, however, that these voters were still noncitizens at the time that they registered to vote. Even assuming a worst-case scenario in which all of the noncitizens voted illegally, the numbers represent a 22-year period rather than a large number of fraudulent votes in one election. The fact that registrars are free to take no action at all with respect to the matched names is further evidence of the DPS claims’ lack of substance.

Election fraud is a serious matter but the evidence for widespread fraud presented by the Texas DPS does not match the hysteria that it has generated. The name matches are not evidence of a pattern of illegal voting by immigrants, but the claim will further stoke tensions in the immigration debate. It is unfortunate that these skewed and meaningless statistics will make it more difficult to solve the immigration problem.

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