Weeks after becoming embroiled in a federal lawsuit over the Texas Secretary of State’s effort to identify and remove people who are not U.S. citizens from Texas voter rolls, Galveston County Voter Registrar Cheryl Johnson revised and approved a policy to recommend some potential non-citizens to be investigated, and potentially prosecuted, for voter fraud by the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office.
The three-page document was approved by Johnson on March 12, weeks after she said her office regularly referred people to the district attorney’s office for potential cases of voter fraud. In January, the district attorney’s office said it was not aware of any such referrals.
Because of that confusion, Johnson rewrote her office’s policy to make it clear that potential non-citizens should be referred to prosecutors, she said.
“I discovered my staff was confused about what precisely they were supposed to send to the DA,” Johnson said. “I revised the policy to make it real clear.”
Since the new policy went into place, Johnson’s office has referred five names to the district attorney’s office for investigation, she said. Those people are being investigated, Galveston District Attorney Jack Roady said. As of Monday, none of those people had been charged with voter-fraud related crimes, Roady said.
Some of the people who Johnson has referred to the district attorney also appeared on a list of potential non-citizens that was distributed by Texas Secretary of State’s office in January, Johnson said.
The new policy is aimed at people who tell county officials they are not eligible for jury duty because they are not U.S. citizens. All of the people had self-reported themselves to the county, Johnson said.
The voter registrar’s office has long been notified about such people, because jury summons are connected directly to voter registrations, Johnson said. But, until recently, her office had not been sending names to the district attorney for investigation.
Under the new policy, the voter registrar refers to the district attorney people whose names have been flagged and do not respond to a letter asking them to prove their citizenship — or voluntarily remove themselves from the voter rolls — within 35 days.
When that happens, Johnson’s office cancels a person’s voter registration and sends a packet of information to the district attorney’s office.
Johnson on Monday said her office cannot definitively say whether a person has voted illegally. Her office can tell prosecutors that a person did not respond to a request of proof for citizenship and turn over that person’s voting records. But the voter registrar cannot access the sworn statement where a person said they were a non-citizen, she said.
Roady confirmed on Monday that his office had received a packet of names from Johnson’s office and was investigating the information she provided. Charging someone with voting illegally would require prosecutors to prove intent, Roady said.
“You have to be able to prove whether they intended to vote illegally or attempted to vote illegally,” Roady said. “It’s going to depend on the evidence.”
Texas’ treatment of people with questionable voter registrations have been under scrutiny since Jan. 25, when the Texas Secretary of State’s office distributed a list of thousands of registered voters to counties across the state identifying them as potential non-citizens.
In some counties, including Galveston, voting officials began to send letters to people on the list, asking them to prove their citizenship or else be removed from voter rolls. On Jan. 28 and Jan. 29, Johnson’s office sent 169 letters to Galveston County voters named on the state’s list.
Two days after sending the list out, the Secretary of State’s office notified counties that some of the names on the list were, in fact, legal voters. By the time that happened, Johnson’s office had sent 58 letters to legal voters.
Those people received a second letter, saying they did not need to respond to the request to prove themselves. Still, hundreds of other people received the 30-day warning.
In the days after the list was released, voter and civil rights groups sued the Secretary of State’s office, as well as Johnson and other county officials, saying the attempted voter purge targeted minorities and naturalized citizens.
The lawsuits are still ongoing, and a court order prevents the voter registrar’s office from removing people on the state’s list from the county’s voter rolls, Johnson said. However, some of those people also self-identified as non-citizens through their jury summons, Johnson said.
Under her new policy, Johnson said she “absolutely, unequivocally” expected Roady’s office to investigate for cases of potential voter fraud.
“He’s not doing his job if he’s not,” she said.