Letters go out to 21 Wood County voters inquiring about citizenship

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Election officials in Wood County sent out letters on Jan. 29 to 21 registered voters informing them that their United States citizenship is under review and that they have 30 days to respond.

Wood County is among Texas counties that recently received lists of registered voters who reportedly provided the Department of Public Safety with a form of documentation that showed they were not citizens when they obtained Texas driver’s licenses or ID cards. They may have later gained American citizenship. About 95,000 names are on a list maintained by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, 58,000 of whom had cast a ballot between 1996 and 2018.

Wood County Elections Administrator Laura Wise said the 21 voters are not concentrated in any one community and are scattered about the county. A couple of voters being investigated have been registered a “really long time,” Wise said.

“If they are legal citizens, then of course their voter registration will not be cancelled, and we will let the state know,” Wise noted. If any voters are determined to be non-citizens, they will be removed from the rolls. The voters will have to prove their citizenship, she added.

Asked if she thought the state was requiring Wood County to engage in a goose chase, she replied: “We’re doing what the state tells us, and we’re hoping it’s a goose chase.”

Wood County has roughly 29,550 registered voters. Across Texas, there are more than 15.8 million. Illegally voting is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison.

After making an announcement on Jan. 25 about the review of voter rolls, Secretary of State David Whitley provided the data to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who promised to “spare no effort” in assisting with potential voter fraud cases.

The actions by Whitley and Paxton drew immediate push back.

Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said Whitley’s announcement was in line with similar efforts elsewhere in the nation to strip eligible voters from the rolls.

“The secretary’s actions threaten to result in tens of thousands of eligible voters being removed from the rolls, including those with the least resources to comply with the demand to show papers,” Stevens told the Texas Tribune.

Mark Owens, an assistant professor of political science at UT-Tyler, said that worldwide, allegations of illegal voting generally arise more frequently in close elections. Rather than in-person voting, suspected fraud often involves mail-in absentee votes, he noted.

Owens said that expunging voters from the rolls doesn’t particularly help Republicans or Democrats.

“They all need to mobilize voters; that (expunging voters) wouldn’t help either party,” he said, noting that in Texas people don’t register as members of a party.

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