Texas

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Texas From Purging Voters In Citizenship Review

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery called the review “ham-handed” and ordered counties not to remove any voters from the rolls without his approval and “a conclusive showing that the person is ineligible to vote.”

A long line of voters wait to cast their ballots at the Wonderland of the Americas Mall in San Antonio late Friday afternoon, Nov. 2, the last day of early voting.

A federal judge has put a temporary stop to the process of reviewing the citizenship of tens of thousands of registered Texas voters, making it clear that no Texas county should move forward with efforts to purge voters or issue letters demanding proof of citizenship “without prior approval of the Court with a conclusive showing that the person is ineligible to vote.”

The Wednesday order from U.S. District Judge Fred Biery comes a month after the Texas secretary of state flagged nearly 100,000 voters for citizenship review — and a flurry of civil rights groups filed three separate lawsuits to block state and county officials from working off of what has proven to be a deeply flawed set of data. Biery ordered that while the litigation continues, counties can “continue to find out if in fact someone is registered who is not a citizen” — some have done so by comparing registered voters with those made citizens at recent naturalization ceremonies, for example — but may not communicate directly with any particular individual on the list. Reaching out to a voter to demand proof of citizenship starts the clock on a process that can lead to that voter being purged from the rolls.

The 90,000-plus voters on the state’s original list were registered voters who had, at some point in recent years, identified themselves as non-citizens to the Department of Public Safety while receiving or renewing their driver’s licenses. But tens of thousands of those individuals, it has come out in recent weeks, were naturalized before registering to vote — making casting a ballot perfectly legal. The number of voters in that group is expected to grow as efforts to review the list proceed.

Biery’s order directly addresses the more than a dozen counties who are named defendants in the flurry of lawsuits. It also directs the state to inform Texas’ other 200-plus counties that they may not purge voters or demand proof of citizenship without his approval.

Last week, eight counties agreed voluntarily to halt their efforts, and on Monday, Biery extended that order to a total of 15 counties.

Biery’s order — much like his statements in court earlier this week — contained harsh words for the state’s bungled attempt to review its rolls.

“Notwithstanding good intentions, the road to a solution was inherently paved with flawed results, meaning perfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the Court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state which did not politely ask for information but rather exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us,” Biery wrote. “No native born Americans were subjected to such treatment.”

This developing story will be updated.

This piece was originally published The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

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