AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said the flawed list of tens of thousands of non-citizens who had potentially voted released by his secretary of state is a “work in progress” and that state and local officials should continue their reviews.
“This is a list that we need to work on together to make sure that those who do not have the legal authority to vote are not going to be able to vote,” he said. “This is what you would categorize as a process, a work in progress. They’ll get it right.”
On Friday, Secretary of State David Whitley, who was appointed by Abbott in December, sent an advisory to counties saying that about 95,000 people who received driver licenses — while legally in the country, but not U.S. citizens — also appeared on Texas voter rolls. Of them, 58,000 voted in one or more elections between 1996 and 2018, Whitley’s office said. It asked counties to review the eligibility of people on the list.
By the end of Wednesday, counties had removed more than 20,000 people from those lists who had already proved their citizenship to the Texas Department of Public Safety, leading to heavy criticism from Democrats and voter rights advocates who had called the advisory a veiled attempt at voter suppression.
Asked directly if he believed that tens of thousands of non-citizens had voted in Texas, Abbott demurred.
“I think it’s important to let the data speak for itself and that’s why it’s so critically important that the Secretary of State, DPS and the counties all work together to find out exactly what the facts are,” he said.
In McLennan County, all 366 of the names the state sent for citizenship reviews to the local elections administrator have been proven to be citizens, according to the Waco Herald Tribune. In Harris County, about 18,000 people have been taken off the list after the state informed local officials their citizenship had also been proven, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Local election officials say those numbers could climb if state officials flag more people as being on the list erroneously.
The bungled rollout led some Texans to call for Whitley’s resignation. Abbott, however, defended the advisory.
“It’s important that the Secretary of State, DPS, the counties, everybody work together to make sure that these lists are accurate,” he said. “If I recall correctly in the initial information that was released by the Secretary of State’s office they were clear that it was a weak match and they were reaching out to counties saying this isn’t a hard and fast list.”
On Friday, Abbott had cheered the list’s release on social media.
“Thanks to Attorney General Paxton and the Secretary of State for uncovering and investigating this illegal vote registration,” he said. “I support prosecution where appropriate. The State will work on legislation to safeguard against these illegal practices.”
Abbott said that local counties should work with state agencies to work through the lists. But local elections administrators have said the secretary of state’s office has given little guidance after flaws were found in the original data they received.
“There’s a single goal here that everybody surely agrees upon that no one who doesn’t have the authority to vote is not eligible to vote,” Abbott said. “And equally that everybody who is eligible to vote, make sure that they are registered.”
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