Gonzales County voters snagged in SOS snafu


GONZALES — In the rush to protect the sanctity of the vote, Texas officials last week released an impressive list of names that they said were not authorized to vote because of residency status in state elections and claimed tens-of-thousands have cast illegal ballots over a 22-year span. The rush to condemn the news dump was fierce once those figures were found to be largely inflated and misrepresented.

Gonzales County was not spared the controversy, as 54 names on voter registration rolls were sent to Gonzales County Voter Registrar Crystal Cedillo for further examination and potential expulsion from local voter rolls. Turns out three of those names were duplicates. And after an outcry from community and legal groups, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley revised the county total to 38 names. The state numbers also shrank.

Cedillo is not in any hurry to deal with the matter.

“I don't think we are going to do anything until they get this straight,” Cedillo said. She stated that she would not send any letters to the flagged Gonzales County residents until the situation is cleared up at the state level.

So far, three major groups have filed federal lawsuits against the state, accusing officials of voter intimidation. Those are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the League of Women Voters.

The letter advising of the imagined fraud, sent by Secretary Whitley, asked county registrars to identify any non-U.S. citizens registered to vote in the state. After working with Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials, his office came to a number of 95,000 individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens not having a matching voter registration in Texas, and “approximately 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more Texas elections.” Voting ineligibly is a second-degree felony, he said. If anyone is flagged as a non-citizen, the county registrar should send them a letter requesting proof of proper citizenship in order to stay a registered voter. The person had 30 days to respond or be struck from the rolls.

From there, Twitter aficionados took to their phones to decry the supposed breach of voter security. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — himself being previously indicted on felony security fraud charges — broadcast an inaccurate “VOTER FRAUD ALERT” to his followers, which Gov. Greg Abbott quickly retweeted in a show of support for the report. Even President Donald Trump jumped into the fray, claiming that “voter fraud is rampant,” and singling out California from this Texas-centric text.

The conflict seems to have arisen when DPS drivers license records don't record when a person becomes a U.S. citizen. If one obtains a drivers license, then becomes a citizen and registers to vote, DPS is not required to update a persons citizenship status until the renewal of the license. The numbers from the secretary of state were picked from that outdated information and trumpeted as truth.

The problem is, the news turned out to be more fake than a national crisis. As pointed out in the Texas Tribune, the secretary of state's office soon reversed course and “walked back” its findings after errors in the data were exposed that showed that tens of thousands of the flagged voters were in fact citizens.

In the meantime, Gonzales County waits for the matter to be resolved and the Inquirer will submit an open records request to review the names submitted to the local registrar.