Citizenship check: 56 in county to receive letters asking for proof to remain on voting rolls

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, January 30, 2019
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Fifty-six Wise County residents will receive a letter within the next few days asking them to provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to remain on the voting rolls.

Late last Friday, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley announced his office would send a list of 95,000 registered voters in the state who were flagged as possibly non-citizens who are ineligible to vote. Whitley said the names on the list are people who had provided the Department of Public Safety with a form of identification — such as a work visa — that showed they were not a citizen when obtaining a driver’s license or identification card.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a news release Friday afternoon announcing that of the 95,000 identified individuals, roughly 58,000 of them have voted in recent years.

According to a story in the Texas Tribune, the 58,000 were said to have cast a ballot in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018.

While some initial reports indicated that all 58,000 had cast illegal votes, it is possible that a number of those individuals later became citizens before they voted.

Counties, including Wise, were sent those lists over the weekend. Wise County Elections Administrator and Voter Registrar Sabra Srader said she and other elections officials around the state did not receive advance notice about the registration examination before a public announcement was made.

By Tuesday, the secretary of state’s office began backing off the original number, saying many of the names shouldn’t have been on the list.

In Wise County, for instance, Srader said the number decreased by about a third.

“The initial list we got for Wise County over the weekend was 77, what they called ‘weak’ matches, and all 254 counties got a call [Tuesday] morning from the secretary of state’s office backing off that a little bit,” Srader said. “By 9 [Tuesday] morning, that number had been reduced from 77 in Wise County to 56 potential weak matches, and we are scrubbing that list now.”

Srader said her office held off on sending out the letters earlier in the week because she felt the original 77 names was likely inaccurate, but examination letters are expected to be sent to the remaining 56 people on the list today or Thursday.

That decision was made after Srader talked to County Attorney James Stainton and County Judge J.D. Clark about how they wanted to proceed. Srader said they advised her make sure local voter rolls “have the utmost integrity.”

“We don’t want to alienate voters or suppress votes, but at the same time, our duty is to keep the integrity of our voter registration rolls,” she said.

The examination letters, with wording prescribed by the secretary of state’s office, state the person’s registration status is being investigated because there is reason to believe the letter’s recipient may not be a United States citizen. The letter’s recipient is instructed to confirm his or her eligibility by providing one of three forms of proof of citizenship: a certified copy of a birth certificate, passport or citizenship papers.

The individuals will have 30 days from the date of the letter to provide the proof of citizenship. If they don’t, their voter registration will be canceled.

Wise County has approximately 41,000 registered voters, so the 56 individuals flagged for examination represent approximately 1/10 of 1 percent of eligible voters.

“We have no indication that any of these folks have ever attempted to vote,” Srader said.

No proof of citizenship or photo identification is needed to register to vote. However, Texas law requires photo identification in order to cast a vote.

If you do receive an examination letter, Srader said you can either mail a copy of one of the forms of proof of citizenship or come by the office and they will make a copy.

She said she understands these letters may be received by legally registered voters, and it could be upsetting.

“I’ll be interested to see what percentage respond to these 56 [letters] with proof, and if some of them are (citizens), I’ll probably get an earful, and I don’t blame them,” she said.

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