President Donald Trump on Sunday gave credence to incomplete and possibly inaccurate information about the extent of voter fraud in Texas, marking the latest in a series of misleading and false statements he has made on the topic of voting irregularities.
In a call for voter identification laws ― which Texas already has ― Trump tweeted that 95,000 non-citizens were on the voter rolls in Texas, 58,000 of whom had voted in at least one election in the state. Trump based his tweet on a statement released Friday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R).
But what Texas officials actually found is far less certain, The Texas Tribune reported.
The secretary of state’s office in a Friday memo said it had identified 95,000 people on voter rolls that it suspects are non-citizens and sent the names to county officials to probe further. The state flagged the 95,000 by matching data from people who at one time had been documented as legal permanent residents against the state’s voter registration database. But what remains unclear is how many of those residents may now be citizens or if all the matches are accurate.
Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, questioned the accuracy of the memo from the secretary of state’s office. Stevens said about 50,000 Texans became naturalized citizens each year and it was “highly suspect” that the memo took that into account.
“There is no credible data that indicates illegal voting is happening in any significant numbers, and the secretary’s statement does not change that fact,” she said.
Stevens expressed concerns that the memo could “result in tens of thousands of eligible voters being removed from the rolls, including those with the least resources to comply with the demand to show papers.”
Keith Ingram, the state’s director of elections, wrote in the memo that the information on the number of non-citizens on voting rolls should be treated as “WEAK” matches, meaning county officials need to further investigate the cases. Ingram also said counties could not cancel any of the suspected non-citizen voter registrations without first mailing them a notice giving them 30 days to prove their citizenship.
Among the 95,000 registered voters who may be non-citizens, the number state officials said actually cast ballots in at least one election — 58,000 — also lacks context. The Texas Tribune reported the number covers elections from 1996-2018, a 22-year time span Paxton did not mention in his statement.
There are nearly 15.8 million registered voters in Texas, over 8.3 million of whom voted in the 2018 general election.
Last year, Paxton created a unit in his office focused on targeting election crimes. So far, the unit has prosecuted 33 people. Among them is Rosa Maria Ortega, a legal permanent resident who was sentenced to 8 years in prison for illegally voting. Ortega, who faces likely deportation, said she made a mistake and had no idea she was ineligible to vote.
“It is also no surprise that the attorney general tweeted about this announcement using alarmist language that is clearly intended to advance a false political narrative to further restrict access to the ballot box,” Stevens said in her statement.
Several studies and investigations have shown voter fraud is not a widespread problem across the nation. But since winning the presidency, Trump has made a number of unsubstantiated claims that have attempted to paint a different picture.
He has claimed that between 3 and 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election ― while offering no evidence to support that claim. He has argued he would have won New Hampshire in the 2016 election had it not been for people bused in from out of state to vote ― a claim debunked by state officials. He also has suggested there was widespread illegal voting in California ― and again, there is no evidence that’s true.
Shortly after he took office in early 2017, he convened a panel to investigate voter fraud. But it was marred by infighting and disbanded after a few months without finding any evidence of widespread fraud.