On January 25, Whitley sent out letters to counties with a list of 95,000 registered voters who were matched with people flagged by the Texas Department of Public Safety as being noncitizens. Whitley and his office did not provide much in the way of the methodology used in their 11-month-long review of public records, nor did they respond to requests for comment. But Whitley’s spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday that the release was “part of the process of ensuring no eligible voters were impacted by any list maintenance activity.” Ostensibly, the letters were intended to begin a formal citizenship-review process, which would verify any claims of fraudulent ballots and also purge nonrespondents from voter rolls.
But from the outset, other forces were at work. The secretary of state’s office referred the members of the list to Paxton, who sounded the alarm via Twitter. “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” Paxton tweeted on January 25, “the [secretary of state] discovered approx 95,000 individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in TX, approx 58,000 of whom have voted in TX elections. Any illegal vote deprives Americans of their voice.” Said Paxton in a separate statement: “Every single instance of illegal voting threatens democracy in our state and deprives individual Texans of their voice.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott also tweeted about voter fraud that day, mentioning the case of Enrique Salazar Ortiz, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico in San Antonio who pleaded guilty to illegal voting in the 2016 election and to identity theft in October 2018, and who was apparently sentenced just the day before Whitley published his list.
Paxton, who has aggressively pursued isolated reports of voter fraud during his time in office, took care to only insinuate that the list referred to him was definitive evidence of mass voter fraud. President Donald Trump, however, managed no such nuance. “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote,” he tweeted Sunday. “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!”
Read: Fighting for the right to vote in a tiny Texas county
This isn’t the first time Trump has spread misinformation about voter fraud, and it probably won’t be the last. But even assuming he simply misread the original notice from Whitley’s office or Paxton’s announcement, it’s now clear that both of those are on shaky ground. Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram noted that the matches from the advisory list were only “weak matches” that could have improperly flagged people with identical or similar names to those in the voter-registration files. The Texas Tribune reports that several county elections officials have gotten notice from Whitley that perhaps thousands of the names on the original list shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Among those flagged properly, many who are in the files over the 22-year period they cover could have become naturalized citizens and then registered to vote, which could still trigger their inclusion on the list. And for the remaining registered voters who are actually noncitizens, many or most are added to rolls by clerical errors that are easily fixed. As of yet, there aren’t indications that any of the records on the list refer to anyone who’s voted fraudulently.