Statement to the Blanco County Commissioners
by the Blanco County Democratic Party
February 12, 2019
I am the Chairman of the Blanco County Democratic Party and I am before you this morning to discuss the actions of the Texas Secretary of State and of Blanco County to conduct a “voter purge.” I want to be clear that the State of Texas has put Blanco County in a difficult situation. I am not here to condemn any individual County official but there are questions that need to be answered and given the fact that the County is now being sued the answers are not forthcoming. Note that item number 21 on today’s agenda seeks approval to hire outside counsel to defend the suit.
On January 25, by order of the acting Secretary of State (SOS), David Whitley, the Texas Director of Elections, issued Elections Advisory 2019-02 providing counties with a list of 85,000 voters whose US citizenship and ineligibility to vote the state questioned (purge list). The SOS identified this as “actionable information” and provided specific instructions on how counties could begin investigating the individuals on the purge list. These actions by the SOS were publicly supported by Attorney General Paxton and Governor Abbott.
Immediately various civil rights groups, many State Legislators, the Texas Democratic Party, and former Secretary of State Carlos Cascos expressed concerns about the purge list and called for it to be rescinded. Yet, Blanco County appears to have followed the SOS instructions without pause even though many other counties in the state elected to not pursue it. Other counties pursued the purge on a limited basis after a due diligence process. Since the initial release, the SOS has removed approximately 20,000 names on the list due to a “clerical error.” These have proven to be naturalized citizens. The state has no centralized database of naturalized citizens yet sent out without regard to its accuracy.
As of today, three different lawsuits have been filed contesting the legality of the voter purge. One of these suits – from the League of Women Voters of Texas – specifically names Blanco County as a defendant. Blanco County is one of only five counties to be sued for its actions. We have been unable to as yet understand why the county was named but it is clear that Blanco County was one of the few counties to immediately send out letters to its voters without any type of due diligence or pause to consider the consequences. As of this week Comal, Hays, Kendall, Burnet, Travis, and Lampassas Counties have delayed action on the purge list and have not sent out letters demanding proof of citizenship.
The Blanco County Election Commission met in a regularly scheduled meeting on February 4th. In open session of this meeting, I asked for details regarding Blanco County’s participation on the voter purge and learned that seven names were received from the SOS. Blanco County mailed letters to each of these voters demanding that they prove their citizenship or lose their right to vote. It was also stated that, as of that date, three of these voters had demonstrated citizenship. There had been no contact from the other four voters. It was also revealed that some of the voters were angry because their citizenship had been questioned.
Based on this information, I attempted to persuade the members of the Election Commission that Blanco County’s actions related to the Voter Purge where ill-advised and put the County under unnecessary risk. I pointed out that many other counties exercised caution and did not send out the letters. I also advised that the SOS had admitted there were errors and has removed “tens of thousands” of voters from the list. Many news reports indicated that naturalized citizens were appearing on the list. This discussion demonstrated that no other members of the Election Commission where sympathetic to my position, that all other members supported the voter purge, and they were unconcerned by the subsequent risks. The members of the Election Commission are County Judge Brett Bray, County Clerk Laura Walla, County Tax Assessor Collector/Voter Registrar Kristen Spies, Republican County Chair Al Poteet, and Democratic County Chair Terry Casparis.
Yesterday I requested an update from Kristen Spies on how many voters have responded and proven citizenship. Ms. Spies responded that, on the advice of County Attorney Deborah Earley, the information could not be released because of the lawsuit.
We believe that the Secretary of State has failed in his duty to defend the laws of the United States including the Voting Right Act of 1965. It is a sad irony that Lyndon Baines Johnson worked for passage of the Voting Right Act and signed it into law as President. Now, his home county is being sued because it has defied the Act.
Beyond the specifics of the seven people whose citizenship has been questioned, we must ask ourselves if this voter purge was also intended to send a message to minorities, naturalized citizens, and those who want to become naturalized citizens that their rights will be monitored. Have we played a role in discouraging certain groups of citizens from enjoying their legal right to vote? Is this how we want to be known in Blanco County?
The damage that has been done leads us to make the following requests of the Commissioners Court:
Blanco County will rescind its demand to the remaining voters who were notified through this Voter Purge Process
Blanco County will issue an apology to all seven voters and confirm that no further action has or will be taken to purge them as voters unless and until there is conclusive evidence that they are not US citizens.
Blanco County will issue a public apology and include a positive statement that the County affirms the right of all Americans, native born and naturalized to vote, and state that the full participation in civic rights is both welcomed and encouraged in Blanco County.
Commissioners should adopt a Resolution disavowing the SOS actions and reaffirming that Blanco County encourages the widest civic participation for all citizens to register and vote.
Beginning immediately, Blanco County will require the Voter Registrar and/or the Elections Administrator to report to the County Elections Commission: 1) immediately of any mass purge of the voter rolls prior to execution of that purge, and 2) monthly of all voters removed from the rolls due to routine maintenance (moves, death, etc.)
The Blanco County Commissioners will continue to support the hiring of a highly qualified County Elections Administrator who fully supports the right to vote and has no cloud of partisanship in their record even if this means the timing and budget for this position needs to be re-examined.
These steps are essential to show good faith with our citizens, begin to put this embarrassment behind us, reduce further risks, and be the best possible stewards of our citizens tax dollars.