Voter Purge Leader David Whitley Resigns

Embattled SoS calls it quits after discriminatory voter purge

SoS David Whitley is out the door. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

After his botched voter roll purge effort in January that targeted thousands of supposed non-citizen voters and led to three separate lawsuits from voting rights groups, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley’s job was in serious jeopardy.

Nominated by Gov. Greg Abbott in December, Whitley still needed confirmation from at least two-thirds of the Texas Senate before officially assuming the role. But all 12 Democrats stood as a united front throughout session against the SoS, while Republicans kept punting the confirmation vote down the road. A vote was never called and seeing the writing on the wall in the final hours of the Senate legislative session, Whitley resigned.

“I built a bridge for opposing voices to engage in dialogue to improve election integrity and access,” wrote Whitley in his resignation letter to Abbott, as first reported by the Statesman. “I am forever indebted to Texas for all it has done for my family and me.” Abbott accepted the resignation and praised Whitley – accused of voter intimidation and discrimination in three separate lawsuits – for his “moral character and integrity.”

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said the group “felt strongly that this nomination was undermined by the fear and anxiety created” by the SoS’s voter purge. “The damage done by his actions requires a clear message to the voters of Texas: All eligible voters should be assisted by the state’s highest election officer in exercising their right to vote, not targeted for suppression by the state’s leadership," he said in a statement following the Senate's adjournment.

When Whitley advised counties to investigate a list of some 95,000 registered voters whose U.S. citizenship was possibly in doubt (of whom 58,000 had cast a ballot in the past), it ignited a voter-fraud frenzy among the right-wing, including AG Ken Paxton and even Donald Trump. It was soon discovered the list was deeply flawed, and contained many naturalized citizens, such as Julieta Garibay, a Mexican immigrant and resident of Austin.

Before a Senate Nominations Committee hearing earlier this year, Whitley mostly ducked blame for the fiasco. Voting rights groups launched three suits naming Whitley and other state officials, claiming the SoS “targeted” naturalized citizens and sought to “strip minority voters from the rolls.” His actions also spurred a Congressional investigation, met with resistance from state officials. Texas ended up settling the suits and was forced to pay $450,000 in plaintiffs' fees and court costs.

The consensus among voting rights activists and Democrats? Good riddance and don't let the door hit you on the way out. The controversial Secretary of State stepping down from his post is also another win for civil rights advocates who saw victory this session when Senate Bill 9, deemed the harshest voter suppression bill in the country, and its provisions, withered away after citizen pushback.

“One of the first things the interim Republican Secretary of State did was an attempt to purge the voting rights of nearly 100,000 Texans, proving from the start that he could not be trusted with a permanent job,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas. “More than a half dozen voting rights groups worked all session long to oppose the nomination, and we are pleased that Senate Democrats held together against it.”

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More 86th Texas Legislature
Texas Democrats Request Special Session on Guns
Special Gun Session?
Legislators in five cities press Gov. Abbott

Michael King, Sept. 4, 2019

Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s Not Running Again and You Can Thank the Lord
Stickland Not Running Again
Curtains down for the notoriously belligerent legislator, aka Sticky

Mary Tuma, June 24, 2019

More by Mary Tuma
Conservative Former Council Member Ellen Troxclair Now Has a Podcast
Conservative Former Council Member Ellen Troxclair Now Has a Podcast
On her inaugural episode, former CM bemoans her experience on the liberal Council

Jan. 17, 2020

Paxton Bans State Employees From Donating Pay to Planned Parenthood
Paxton Bans State Employees From Donating Pay to Planned Parenthood
But they can still donate to an anti-choice group

Jan. 13, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

86th Texas Legislature, voting rights, David Whitley

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Time to vote! Music Poll 2019-20 balloting is underway   VOTE NOW