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Activists sue to stop Texas from investigating citizenship status of voters; lawsuit claims program is 'discriminatory and arbitrary'


The lawsuit alleges that the state is unfairly targeting naturalized US citizens

Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Civil rights groups in Texas have filed a federal suit against the state government of Texas for a planned purge of voter roles that they say will disenfranchise naturalized citizens.

Here's what we know

In a Jan. 25 report, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley said that 95,000 registered voters had been identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as noncitizens. Of that number, 58,000 had voted at least once since 1996.

However, Whitley noted that this number could include people who had become naturalized citizens within that time frame, who only registered to vote after they had been granted citizenship.

Since this announcement, the total number of people on this list has been reduced after it was discovered that an unknown number of U.S. citizens had been mistakenly included in the total. It is unclear yet just how much of a change this might be.

State officials in at least five Texas counties had told the Texas Tribune that the secretary of state's office had called to warn them that citizens may have inadvertently been included in these lists.

While the governments of most of these counties had opted to wait until they had more information, officials in Galveston County (which was not one of the five that had acknowledged receiving such a warning) planned to mail letters demanding proof of citizenship from people on this list by Monday. Voters would then have 30 days to prove their citizenship or be removed from voter rolls.

The MOVE Texas Civic Fund, the Jolt Initiative, the League of Women Voters in Texas, and the Texas NAACP allege that the move could disenfranchise rightfully registered voters. They argue that Whitley's analysis of the voter rolls relied on flawed data. The lawsuit also alleges that Whitley's actions violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The complaint was filed in a federal court in Galveston.

This lawsuit calls the right to vote "a fundamental and foundation right, possessed equally by U.S. born and naturalized citizens." It argued:

The Secretary of State's purge treats those who have been naturalized as second-class citizens whose right to vote can be uniquely threatened and burdened solely because at some point in the past, these individuals were not U.S. citizens.

The lawsuit further argued that,

Because [the program] is discriminatory and arbitrary in its design, purpose, and effect, the program outlined in the Advisory violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What else?

KTVT-TV reported that the organizations filing the suit also sent Whitley a notice saying that he has 90 days to stop purging voter rolls, or risk further legal action.

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