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In Harris County, Thousands Of Registered Voters Mistakenly Flagged For Citizenship Checks

The state initially said almost 30,000 registered voters in Harris County might not be citizens. That number was inflated by almost 18,000.

Ella Feldman/Houston Public Media
Outside a voting location in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood during the 2018 election.

Harris County has found that thousands of county residents who were initially included on a list of potential non-citizens registered to vote shouldn’t have been placed on that list.

Earlier this week, the Harris County Attorney’s Office said it was “very skeptical” about the first list from the state, which had distributed the names of about 95,000 registered voters who were not citizens when they obtained their driver’s license or state identification.

But the Secretary of State’s Office later reached out to local officials across the state, including in Harris and Galveston Counties, advising them that some people on the initial list shouldn’t have been there.

In Harris County, according to Special Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray, the state’s initial list flagged 29,822 people for citizenship checks.

The county first discovered more than 400 duplicate names on that list, and then removed thousands of others from the list after the Secretary of State’s Office said some had in fact already confirmed their citizenship with the state. According to Ray, the state also said people who registered to vote at a citizenship naturalization ceremony didn’t need to be on the list.

“We were able to remove nearly 18,000 of the names from the list,” Ray said, “giving us less than 12,000 to investigate further.”

In a statement, the Secretary of State’s Office said it’s “continuing to provide information to the counties to assist them in verifying eligibility of Texas voters” as part of a process to ensure “no eligible voters are impacted by any list maintenance activity.”

“This is to ensure that any registered voters who provided proof of citizenship at the time they registered to vote will not be required to provide proof of citizenship as part of the counties' examination,” spokesperson Sam Taylor said.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ray said Harris County will continue to review the remaining names before asking those people to prove their citizenship.

“We will not send out any challenges until our investigation is complete,” Ray said.

Meanwhile, a civil rights group is suing the state, calling the state’s effort to identify non-citizens on the voter rolls a “carefully calibrated” plan to intimidate legitimate voters.

This story has been updated.

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