David Whitley, who was Texas’ Secretary of State for less than a year, will now have to find a new job after resigning in disgrace over a botched voter fraud investigation.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Whitley resigned after failing to gain the votes needed to be confirmed by the Texas state senate, as is required for gubernatorial appointees. While all 19 Republicans supported Whitley’s confirmation, none of the 12 Democrats did, citing the Secretary of State’s voter fraud investigation that resulted in the attempted purge of thousands of naturalized citizens.
Whitley, who used to be an aide in the office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), initially flagged approximately 98,000 people on Texas’ voter rolls whom he suspected of not being citizens. Of those names, roughly one in four were flagged in error, and thousands were in fact naturalized citizens. Around 58,000 of those flagged had cast ballots in at least one election since 1996.
The Texas Tribune reported that attorneys representing these citizens — many of whom were sent letters demanding they prove their citizenship or be kicked off the voter rolls — said the investigation intruded on the rights of voters of color.
A federal judge ultimately shut down Whitley’s investigation after more than 1,000 names on his list were found to be U.S. citizens. According to the Tribune, the Secretary of State’s office ultimately racked up more than $450,000 in legal fees and court costs that taxpayers were left to foot as a result of the investigation. And as the Statesman reported, Whitley himself admitted that many of the names he flagged may have ultimately been naturalized citizens.
“The damage done by his actions requires a clear message to the voters of Texas: All eligible voters should be assisted by the state’s highest election officer in exercising their right to vote, not targeted for suppression by the state’s leadership,” said Texas state senator José Rodriguez, who chairs the body’s Democratic caucus.
It’s not known at this moment who Gov. Abbott will appoint to fill the vacated position as Texas’ top elections official. However, whoever Abbott appoints may very well continue efforts to purge voters from the rolls, going by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute case. In that case, America’s highest court ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted — a Republican — had the legal right to purge voters from the state’s rolls simply for not voting in the previous two election cycles.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.