David Whitley, Texas secretary of state, resigns after questioning voters' citizenship

David Whitley, who served as the Texas secretary of state for about five months and was the face of a failed attempt to review the citizenship status of nearly 100,000 registered voters, resigned from his post Monday.

David Whitley, Texas secretary of state, resigns after questioning voters' citizenship

Whitley was appointed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, in December, but he was never officially confirmed as the secretary of state by the Texas Senate because all 12 Democrats refused to approve him.

Absent that confirmation, according to state regulations, the end of the legislative session Monday would have marked the end of his tenure.

Whitley stirred up controversy in January when his office warned county officials that the Texas Department of Public Safety had identified about 95,000 registered voters as potential noncitizens, adding that 58,000 of those had voted in one or more elections in the state.

His efforts to review the voter rolls reignited highly partisan national debates over the prevalence of voter fraud. President Donald Trump tweeted about Whitley’s advisory, wrongly saying that “58,000 noncitizens voted in Texas” and adding that “voter fraud is rampant.”

Academic and government studies carried out over years — including a voter fraud commission Trump started (and later abruptly disbanded) — have repeatedly found scant evidence of widespread voter fraud.

In Texas, the effort to identify noncitizen voters quickly began to fall apart. Days after the list was announced, local election officials said that many of the people on it were known to be U.S. citizens. Whitley and other state leaders faced at least three lawsuits, and in February, a federal judge halted the effort to review voters’ citizenship status, calling the process “ham-handed.”

“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,” Judge Fred Biery, of the U.S. District Court in San Antonio, said in his ruling.

Last month, Whitley formally agreed to rescind the January advisory. The lawsuits were settled, and the state agreed to pay $450,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

“From the beginning, this process was designed to be collaborative, and today’s agreement reflects a constructive collaboration among all stakeholders,” Whitley said in a statement about the agreement. “It is of paramount importance that Texas voters can have confidence in the integrity, accuracy, and efficiency of the electoral system in which they participate.”

But on Monday, Whitley’s time was essentially up.

State Sen. José Rodríguez, the chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, said he had been opposed to the voter review from the beginning and urged his fellow Democrats to stand firm against Whitley’s confirmation, which would have required two-thirds of the 31-member Republican-controlled Senate to vote in Whitley’s favor.

Rodríguez added that the effort to purge voter rolls came from state leaders — including Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton — and not from Whitley alone.

“We all felt that this was an orchestrated effort on the part of the highest levels of Texas government to point to voter fraud in the state,” he said. “And it quickly began to unravel.”

Representatives for Whitley, Abbott, Paxton and the Texas Department of Public Safety did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening. The Austin American-Statesman reported that Whitley delivered his resignation letter to the governor just before the Senate session ended Monday and thanked Abbott, who accepted and praised Whitley for his “moral character and integrity.”

The League of United Latin American Citizens, which sued Whitley over his advisory in January, said in a statement following his resignation that Texas has a long history of voter suppression and that the situation was far from resolved.

“The big lie just keeps being repeated over and over again that there’s voter fraud, when the only real voter fraud is voter suppression,” Domingo Garcia, the president of the organization, said Tuesday. “They’re basically trying to rig the system to keep power because they’re concerned that Texas is on the verge of becoming a purple state.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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