The day after a federal judge in San Antonio criticized Texas Secretary of State David Whitley’s effort to remove alleged noncitizens from voter rolls, a state Senate committee approved his nomination.
Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Whitley, his deputy chief of staff, to the position in December, but he needs Senate confirmation to keep the job as the state's top election official.
A Senate panel approved the nomination 4-3 along party lines Thursday. It now heads to the full Senate; Democrats there have said they will reject his nomination.
The vote took place a day after U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery ordered Whitley to tell local officials to temporarily stop removing names from voter rolls. The judge also accused Whitley of creating a “mess.”
“It appears this is a solution looking for a problem,” Biery wrote. “Notwithstanding good intentions, the road to a solution was inherently paved with flawed results.”
State Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin told members of the Senate committee that approving Whitley’s nomination under these circumstances was a mistake.
“The Secretary of State of Texas is our state’s chief election officer and his most important job is to protect the citizens' right to vote,” he said. “One day ago, a federal court made clear that the nominee before us today failed in that job, whether intentionally or not.”
On Jan. 25, Whitley announced his office compiled a list of roughly 95,000 names of people who had registered for a driver’s license or state ID as a noncitizen in the past 22 years, but who had also registered to vote during that period. Whitley asked election officials across the state to start the process of removing those names from their voter rolls.
Elections officials, however, quickly found the state had erroneously included the names of thousands of recently naturalized U.S. citizens who had the right to vote.
Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said she was disappointed state lawmakers confirmed Whitley, who she said created “a big mess in Texas.”
“It is very disappointing that the nominations committee didn’t see that, didn’t react to that and they are not standing up for voting rights,” she said.