Texas settles lawsuit over bungled search for illegal votes
By PAUL J. WEBER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas officials announced Friday that they settled a lawsuit over a bungled search for ineligible voters that President Donald Trump stoked over Twitter but that resulted in the U.S. citizenship of thousands of people being wrongly called into question.
The agreement officially ends a botched scouring of Texas voter rolls that began in January and was beset by deeply flawed data. It identified nearly 100,000 potentially ineligible voters but wrongly captured naturalized citizens.
Problems with the list were discovered within days, but not before Trump seized on the reports out of Texas to renew his unsubstantiated claims of rampant voter fraud in the U.S.
It made for another volatile chapter in Texas voting battles that have simmered for a decade, which have included federal judges finding racial discrimination in voting maps and voter ID laws created by Republicans, though the state later prevailed on appeals. In February, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery of San Antonio called Texas' search for non-citizen voters "a solution looking for a problem" and said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
"This settlement brings an end to a deplorable Texas farce, in which state leaders shamelessly lied about alleged widespread fraud by Latino and other immigrants, grabbing headlines and national attention," said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, which represented some U.S. citizens who were wrongly flagged by the state.
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley said the agreement ensures the same mistakes won't happen again.
"Today's agreement accomplishes our office's goal of maintaining an accurate list of qualified registered voters while eliminating the impact of any list maintenance activity on naturalized U.S. citizens," Whitley said in a statement.
The settlement might be too late to save Whitley's job. He was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in December, but Democrats in the Texas Senate have spent months blocking Whitley's confirmation over his office not properly vetting the list and referring the names to election fraud prosecutors.
Whitley must be confirmed before the Texas Legislature adjourns in May or Abbott will have to appoint a new chief elections officer.
The state originally claimed that 58,000 people on the list had voted in at least one election since 1996. But significantly, Texas officials failed to exclude voters who legally cast ballots only after becoming naturalized citizens.
Texas continues to aggressively pursue alleged cases of voter fraud. On Thursday, a Texas mayor on the U.S.-Mexico border was arrested and charged with trying to cheat his way into office through an illegal voting scheme. Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina faces three felony charges. A city spokesman says the mayor denies any wrongdoing.
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