Lawful noncitizens: driver’s license is ok, voting is illegal
Texas law allows lawfully present non-citizens to obtain driver’s licenses by showing proof of lawful presence to DPS. However, only citizens are eligible to vote. And Texas law currently does not require verification of a voter’s statement that they are a citizen. The Texas Secretary of State provided the information to the Office of the Attorney General this week, which has concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute election crimes.
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In an advisory released Friday afternoon, the office said it was flagging individuals who had provided the Texas Department of Public Safety with some form of documentation — including a work visa or a green card — that showed they were not a citizen when they were obtaining a driver’s license or an ID card. Among the individuals flagged, about 58,000 individuals cast a ballot in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018, the secretary of state's office said.
It’s unclear exactly how many of those individuals are not actually U.S. citizens and whether that number will be available in the future. In its notice to counties, the secretary of state's office said the names should be considered "WEAK" matches, using all capital letters for emphasis.
That means counties may now choose to investigate the eligibility of the individuals who were flagged, which would require them to send a notice asking for proof of citizenship within 30 days, or take no action. By law, the counties aren't allowed to automatically revoke a voter's registration without sending out such a notice.
It's possible that individuals flagged by the state — who provided DPS with documentation that indicated they were authorized to be in the country — could have become naturalized citizens since they obtained their driver's license or ID card. A spokesman for the secretary of state said officials are "very confident" that the data received from DPS is "current."
In announcing the review of the rolls, Secretary of State David Whitley — who was appointed to the post last month after serving as deputy chief of staff to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — immediately handed the data over to the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who said his office will "spare no effort in assisting with these troubling cases."
But without additional verification, you can't say these individuals all engaged in illegal voting, said Chris Davis, the head of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.
"People get naturalized," Davis said. "It's entirely too early to say that."
The numbers were released just a few weeks into a legislative session during which lawmakers may take up proposals to require some form of citizenship verification before registering to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 rejected states' efforts to require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Other federal courts have knocked more recent efforts.
In a state where about 15.8 million Texans are registered to vote, the AG’s office has recently pursued a small number of convictions of illegal voting by non-citizens. Past reviews of the voter rolls by other states ultimately found that only a small number of the thousands of non-citizens they initially flagged had actually voted. For years, researchers have found that voter fraud is rare and claims that non-citizens are voting in large numbers have not been substantiated.