AUSTIN, Texas – The League of Women Voters of Texas is urging Texas residents to tell their state senators to vote against the nomination of David Whitley as secretary of state.

Recently, Whitley’s office told county election departments that 96,000 individuals had voted in Texas elections without requisite citizenship. Referring to this as “voter fraud” he called on election departments to get those individuals to verify their citizenship. However, the data was seriously flawed. 

Grace Chimene

In an email alert, the League of Women voters urged their members and supporters to protect the right to vote for all citizens. Their “action alert” stated: “Whitley created a big mess within a few weeks of starting his new job as Secretary of State.”

Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM: “If he (Whitley) had rescinded the order that he sent out we would not be doing this. It is very concerning to us that this continues on. There does not seem to be any thoughts on changing his plan.”

Chimene acknowledged that it is “very unusual” for the League of Women Voters to take a “no” position on the nomination of a secretary of state.

“We work very closely with the Secretary of State’s Office on voting and elections. But, our main mission is empowering voters and defending democracy and there is no way we are going to sit by. We want to encourage them to find a different person, someone who is much more careful in what they are trying to do. Protecting voter rights is one of their priorities.”

Asked if she could second guess Whitley’s motives in issuing the “voter fraud” alert, Chimene said:

“There are some bills that we are opposing that will try to create proof of citizenship for voters. He is probably trying to create messaging that people can use to promote voter suppression bills. He was using false data. There were almost 100,000 people flagged and then he sent it over to the attorney general as though those people were guilty. They had not been guilty of anything except getting a driver’s license.”

Chimene recently wrote a guest column about Whitley’s actions for the Texas Tribune. In it, she wrote:

“There is not a problem of non-citizens registering and voting in Texas — there is a data problem. Even worse, government officials purposely took advantage of that known data problem to plant doubt about the integrity of the voting system.

“The list of individuals in that bad data was made up of licensed drivers and state ID holders, most of whom likely obtained their citizenship after having obtained their state IDs and licenses. Calling this list as proof of “voter fraud,” was definitely inaccurate. 

“This loosely thrown around terminology has a chilling effect on individuals who earnestly and lawfully follow the path to citizenship. This bullying of our newest citizens must stop.”

David Whitley (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

In addition to urging senators to block Whitley’s nomination as secretary of state, Chimene said LWV-TX had joined a lawsuit over Whitley’s actions. “The League took these unusual actions because Whitley’s actions are not only not in the best interest of voting citizens but also a form of voter intimidation,” she said.

Chimene noted that naturalization ceremonies are family celebrations. But, she said, this celebratory event “can quickly turn to fright and worry when those new citizens get letters from their county voter registrars, sent at the request of the Texas Secretary of State, attempting to invalidate their voter registrations.”

Chimene pointed out that Whitley’s letter to county election administrators included this sentence: “Your registration status is being investigated because there is reason to believe you may not be a United States citizen.” 

Chimene said this was nothing more than an intimidation letter written in bureaucratic legalese.

“The Secretary of State, as the chief election officer for Texas, should protect all citizens’ right to vote. Texans can have a secure and accurate voter registration list in two ways: first, by ensuring government officials prioritize data accuracy; and second, by modernizing to include a safe and secure electronic voter registration system like those currently available in 37 other states,” Chimene said in the op-ed.

In its email alert, LWV-TX said this about Whitley’s actions:

“We all care about the integrity and fairness of our elections and there are better ways to safeguard our elections than Whitley’s now de-legitimized voter roll maintenance scheme, which purposely targeted new citizens. This action is discriminatory and unjustly targets people of color.

“Whitley’s scheme led to the nationwide false impression that Texas elections are poorly run and insecure. He is now attempting to put the blame for his bungled voter purge on hardworking county voter registrars and the Department of Public Safety.

“We should all celebrate naturalized citizens who register to vote in our democracy. We should not treat them like criminals by sending them intimidating letters and providing their names to the Attorney General.”

LWV-TX urged supporters to send the call for action across Texas.

“The League of Woman Voters never supports or opposes candidates or parties. We do, however, take a stand on issues based on principles or positions. Our mission is Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy. We envision a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate.”

The newsletter noted that the Secretary of State has “an incredibly important job” as the Chief Election Officer for Texas. The job, the group said, is to assist county election officials and ensure the uniform application and interpretation of election laws throughout Texas.

“The League is taking this unusual action of opposing a nomination because Whitley did not rescind the advisory stopping the voter purge of naturalized citizens.”

The three state senators representing the Rio Grande Valley have all said they will oppose Whitley’s nomination as secretary of state. The three are: Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Juan Hinojosa of McAllen.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows immigrants taking the U.S. oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony in Irving, Texas. (Photo: LM Otero/AP)