Civil rights groups suing the state of Texas and various county voter registrars are justified in their fear that U.S. citizens will be purged from voter rolls through a dubious list Secretary of State David Whitley recently tossed out.
The groups shouldn’t settle for a simple injunction against the citizenship challenges Whitley kicked off, however. They should demand more, and the more they should demand might just put an end to this long-running political farce.
The groups are right to argue the citizenship challenges Whitley’s list spawned target Hispanic and Asian Texans. The Daily News has requested the list Galveston County used to send letters demanding people prove their citizenship or be dropped from voter rolls, but has yet to receive it.
All the same, we’re fairly confident it won’t contain a lot of Smiths, or Whitleys, or Abbotts, or Johnsons, or Taylors, or Middletons, or Paxtons, or Ivanovs, or Smirnovs, even though people with those family names could very well be here illegally from Canada or Europe; maybe even Russia.
The groups are justified in their fears for all sorts of mundane reasons. The Secretary of State’s Office already has admitted some number of the people on its list of 95,000 are legal citizens who should never have been named as suspect in the first place.
Almost half of the letters Galveston County mailed went to such people. It’s worth noting that despite the great importance state leaders have attempted to inject into this effort, the letters went out as regular mail — not registered or certified — and in generic county envelopes.
If the state’s grand vetting is allowed to continue, challenge letters will inevitably be mailed to U.S. citizens. Some of that mail will never get to the intended party; it will get lost or they will have moved. Some of the U.S. citizens who receive the letters will never open them, thinking they are junk mail. Some U.S. citizens will open the letters, toss them into stuff-to-do piles and never get around to dealing with them.
All of which will result in more legal voters than illegal voters being purged from the rolls, which, of course, is the whole point of the exercise.
When he rolled this bugaboo out, Whitley said 58,000 of the people on his list had voted in at least one election since 1996.
Texas Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, quickly connected the numbers to voter fraud and promised swift investigation and prosecutions.
There are several objective problems the old GOP saw about voter fraud, though, especially in the context at hand.
For one thing, Republicans have won most of the elections in Texas since 1996. So, if large numbers of illegal voters have been influencing Texas elections, they must have been voting for Republicans.
That would be an interesting line of inquiry, except for the hokum at the core of it all. Even if all 58,000 people on Whitley’s list had cast an illegal vote in at least one election in the past 23 years, which has about zero probability of being the case, it would have not mattered at all.
The Texas GOP is not worried about the tiny fractions of fraudulent ballots that might have been cast in past elections; it’s worried about the large numbers of valid ballots that might be cast in future elections.
The GOP can read a chart plotting demographic change, and it saw what happened in Harris County, for example, during the midterm elections when virtually every Republican officeholder lost.
The party is worried about the future, and that worry very well might be justified.
While it’s tempting to argue that rather than designing a political party that is more inclusive and representative, Texas Republicans are attempting to engineer a registered electorate that is less so.
That theory makes little sense either, however, given the small numbers at play here. Even if all 95,000 people on Whitley’s initial list were purged from the rolls, it wouldn’t change the trend.
The only rationale apparent is even darker than attempting to disenfranchise minority voters. It’s that the fraud mongers among Texas Republicans want to undermine the credibility of the electoral process in general; to infect it with a persistent notion that if an election or election cycle goes badly for them it was not because of their platform, policy of performance, but because of fraud.
That, of course, is exactly how President Donald Trump has attempted to explain his minority share of popular vote in 2016.
It’s hard to imagine anything more un-American or more corrosive to democracy.
The civil rights groups attempting to get this issue before a federal judge shouldn’t stop with an injunction merely halting the ham-fisted effort now underway. Doing that will just feed the conspiracy theories. They should demand as a term of settlement that the burden of proof be shifted from the voter to the state, and that state be required to investigate each name on whatever list it has. The state should be required after that investigation to present to the federal court a full, detailed and verifiable accounting of what it found.
In other words, state leaders peddling fraud should be required, or at least challenged in that public forum, to put up, or shut up.
• Michael A. Smith