Conservative Columnist Promotes Debunked Story About Non-Citizens Voting in Texas

A writer for conservative outlet PJ Media promoted an outdated Fox News story about non-citizens voting in Texas.

“Texas says it found 95,000 non-citizens on voter rolls; 58,000 have voted,” tweeted long-serving columnist Charlie Martin on Sunday.

The only problem? Absolutely none of that is true, and the link was retweeted more than 5,000 times.

Accompanying Martin’s tweet was a Fox News article from January 26 by Adam Shaw. (Martin’s verbiage was apparently just a copy-and-paste of the original headline from the outdated article.)

“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Friday that the state has discovered 95,000 non-citizens on the voter rolls going back to 1996,” Shaw’s piece reads. “58,000 of whom have voted in at least one Texas election — an announcement likely to raise fresh concerns about the prospect of voter fraud.”

Just a few days after Paxton made the initial claim, however, his office began the long and difficult process of backtracking, which Fox News reported in a separate story: “List of 95K ineligible voters on the rolls may be overstated, Texas State Department suggests.”

As Law&Crime previously reported, Paxton and then-acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley made the incorrect claim in an advisory notice which instructed local elections officials to target nearly 100,000 Texans who had just recently become naturalized.

Paxton and Whitley ginned up the voter fraud controversy surrounding those Texans by noting they were registered to vote.

Why was that an issue at all? Because several prior non-citizen declarations were made at the time the people included on the Whitley-Paxton list applied for their first driver’s licenses in the Lone Star State. But since then, many of those same people became citizens and therefore they became eligible voters. An additional advisory–announcing the obvious error in methodology followed.

“[B]etween 50,000 and 65,000 Texas residents become naturalized citizens each year,” CLC noted in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Over the most recent six years of data – the lifespan of a Texas driver license – 348,552 Texas residents have become newly naturalized citizens. In compiling the list, Whitley relied on records that in some case are as outdated as 23-years old.”

But such an error isn’t easily corrected in the popular imagination. And several people’s names were incorrectly tarnished with the stain of alleged voter fraud. Whitley eventually resigned in something not entirely unlike disgrace after the faux voter fraud controversy.

Paxton and Whitley were also sued over those false claims.

On February 1, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed a federal lawsuit alleging Whitley and Paxton violated both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by issuing that inaccurate advisory.

On February 4, a coalition of four additional civil rights and voting rights organizations represented by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a similar lawsuit against Whitley over the false voter fraud claims emanating from his office.

So, what did Texas officials do wrong here? Basically everything, according to U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Texas San Antonio Division Fred Biery.

In a four-page order, Biery savaged Paxton and Whitley:

Out of 98,000 new American voters on the list, thus far approximately 80 have been identified as being ineligible to vote. Almost immediately upon sending the list, the government had an “oops” moment, realizing that 25,000 names should not have been included. It appears this is a solution looking for a problem.

“The evidence has shown in a hearing before this Court that there is no widespread voter fraud,” Biery concluded near the beginning of his order. “The challenge is how to ferret the infinitesimal needles out of the haystack of 15 million Texas voters.”

Biery ordered that Texas halt their purge while cases were pending against the state’s action in court. And he also reserved some ire for the way in which Texas officials had clearly singled out naturalized residents for especially harsh treatment viz. the would-be purge:

[P]erfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the Court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state which did not politely ask for information but rather exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us. No native born Americans were subjected to such treatment.

In the end, Texas was forced to rescind the inaccurate advisory notice. Counties who acted on that false information were forced to send letters to targeted individuals notifying them that they were no longer being investigated and that they were still, as always, lawfully registered to vote. Texas officials also agreed not to issue such directives or initiate such investigations in the future unless they actually have evidence that a registered voter is a non-citizen.

This agreement was reached in April 2019–but the original corrective to the inaccurate Whitley-Paxton list was issued within days.

Fox News also acknowledged the Whitley-Paxton “debacle” that culminated in the former’s resignation several months later.

So, why did Charlie Martin spread this debunked story? Law&Crime reached out to PJ Media and Martin for comment and clarification, but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.

[Image via Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images]

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