A federal congressional committee will launch an investigation into a Texas effort to remove people from voter rolls over suspicions those people may not be citizens.
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform on Thursday sent letters to Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, informing them of the investigation into the controversy.
“We are disturbed by reports that your office has taken steps to remove thousands of eligible American voters from the rolls in Texas and that you have referred many of these Americans for possible criminal prosecution for exercising their right to vote," U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, both Maryland Democrats. wrote in a letter to Whitley.
Cummings is chairman of the powerful oversight committee. Raskin is chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Since it began, the attempted voter purge has embroiled Whitley's office and resulted in three federal lawsuits — two of which also targeted Galveston County Voter Registrar Cheryl Johnson.
The House committee's request does not specifically mention Galveston County, but does ask Whitley and Paxton to provide all communications they've had with county and local election officials.
Johnson on Thursday afternoon said she had not been contacted about the congressional probe and did not expect to be contacted about it.
On Jan. 25, a Friday, the Secretary of State's office sent a list of 95,000 registered voters to county election officials across the state and identified the people on the list as potential non-citizens.
The following Monday, some counties, including Galveston, began sending letters to local people identified on that list, demanding that they prove their citizenship. If they didn't, they could be removed from voter rolls and possibly referred for criminal investigation, Johnson said.
Johnson's office sent out about 169 such letters, but stopped after the Secretary of State's office alerted counties that there were errors in the original list. Johnson later said that her office sent demand letters to at least 58 people who were later confirmed to be legal voters.
While most questions about the list, how it was developed and what its original intentions were have been focused on Whitley, Johnson and officials from other counties remain a part of a lawsuit filed by voting and civil rights groups that have blocked the state from moving forward with the citizenship review.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery refused to dismiss Johnson and other county officials from the lawsuit. The county officials had argued they were simply following the direction of Whitley's office, though Whitley has said the county officials operate independently.
Biery wrote that he would be willing to dismiss the counties from the lawsuits if they could propose a system where suspected non-citizens are not contacted until officials can provide "conclusive evidence" that they don't belong on voter rolls.
"Were such a proposal forthcoming, the court would reconsider whether the counties need to continue being a party to this lawsuit," Biery wrote.