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Harris County “Very Skeptical” About State’s Potential Non-Citizen Voter List

Harris County is looking into the list before taking action, while neighboring Galveston County has mailed out citizenship check requests.

Alvaro 'Al' Ortiz/Houston Public Media
Election signs at an early voting location at Spring First Church, in Spring, TX on October 28, 2018.

Civil rights groups are urging Texas counties not to take action on a state-circulated list of potential non-citizen voters. In Harris County, the state's most populated county, officials say they'll further investigate the list before sending out citizenship checks.

The state wants local election officials to check the citizenship of about 95,000 registered voters who were not citizens when they obtained their driver's license or state ID.

Douglas Ray, with the Harris County Attorney's Office, said he's "very skeptical" about the validity of the list.

"We think that there's probably a lot of people, a lot of people, who got their driver's license when they weren't citizens, but who subsequently became citizens and registered to vote," he said.

Ray also pointed to a situation years ago where the state believed tens of thousands of registered voters were dead. Many turned out to be very much alive. He said the county is also worried about citizens not responding in time to the citizenship checks requests — they have 30 days, by law — and then losing their right to vote.

"We don't want to take the risk, especially under these circumstances, that large numbers of people who are citizens, have the right to vote, have registered to vote, are disenfranchised just because they didn't get their mail," Ray said. "That's one of the risks that we're not willing to take at this point."

Officials in neighboring Galveston County have started mailing out the requests. Cheryl Johnson, the county's top voter registration official, said the county has a "duty" to reach out to registered voters whenever it receives information that a registration might be invalid.

"When the Secretary of State puts work on the dashboard, we work that work," she said. "I have a responsibility to ensure the integrity of my voter roll."

Johnson said she believes the state did "due diligence" in coming up with the list of possible non-citizen voters, but said the county will notify the state if it finds any problems with the data.

Johnson said Tuesday afternoon the secretary of state’s office had informed her that some individuals should not have been placed on the state’s initial list of potential non-citizens, though she couldn’t say how many. (The initial list included fewer than 900 people in Galveston County.) There were reports of similar errors in other Texas counties.

Johnson said her office is going back through a first batch of notices asking for proof of citizenship sent out Monday to see if any of those letters went to the wrong people.

“We’re going to send a letter out to those folks, letting them know there’s no need for them to take any further action,” she said.

Johnson said as the process plays out, any citizens mistakenly removed from the voter rolls would be notified, and would be able to re-register.

This story has been updated.

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