Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) led the effort to purge thousands of voters from state election rolls, according to electronic correspondence made public on Tuesday.
The revelation comes in the wake of last week’s resignation by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, who widely was believed to have been responsible for the aggressive voter suppression efforts.
However, the release of the emails revealed that the state began rolling out the program months before Whitley was appointed to office in December, and that the disgraced former secretary of state had “nothing to do with the program,” said Luis Vera, general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
“This was Gov. Abbott’s program. He started it with [Attorney General] Ken Paxton, and he did this thinking they were going to pull off a stunt and they got caught with their pants down,” Vera told ThinkProgress.
“They are all a bunch of racist pigs,” Vera added. “Greg Abbott wants a white America. End of story.”
The revelation about the governor’s involvement in the purge was first reported by the San Antonio Express newspaper.
Abbott’s office, in a statement released to the media by his press secretary John Wittman, emphatically denied the allegations.
“These accusations are patently false. Neither the governor or the governor’s office gave a directive to initiate this process,” the statement said.
Within weeks of taking office last January, Whitley drew up a list of nearly 100,000 people he wrongfully identified as non-citizens, saying they had to be deleted from voter rolls. Most, as it turns out, actually were U.S. citizens, and a federal judge blocked his plan to expunge the names.
Abbott — who himself has a long history of pushing voter suppression efforts — will now get to pick someone to replace Whitley as the state’s chief election official, a critically important position looking ahead to 2020.
The Campaign Legal Center and LULAC obtained the documents after filing a lawsuit against the state for its voter purge program. Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement that the organization decided to release make the documents public in the “interest of transparency.”
“One of the things these documents show is that as early as August 2018, the Governor’s office was prioritizing the botched voter purge program that ended with our settlement this spring,” Lang said.
Texas over the years has introduced a raft of schemes to thwart Democratic voters seeking to cast ballots. The state has imposed new voter ID laws, erected barriers to early voting, and put into place rules making it harder to assist people trying to cast ballots. Minority voters and college students are among those most frequently affected by the suppression efforts.
Federal judges have overturned voter suppression laws in Texas more than a half-dozen times over the last few years. Some bills that have been struck down required voters to present approved IDs at the polls and made racist gerrymandering possible.
Voting rights advocates told ThinkProgress last week that they suspected that Abbott might be behind the purge, and that Whitley was, in effect, a fall guy.
“He did not come up with this plan on his own. He wasn’t even in office long enough to come up with it,” said Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party. “Either he was boldface lying to us or it was something that happened that was cast with his signature or his name attached.”
Texas is infamous for its aggressive voter suppression efforts. One voter suppression scheme approved this month bans mobile polling stations that make it possible for thousands of college students, senior citizens, and low-income residents throughout the state to vote. That measure is awaiting Abbott’s signature.
Republicans in the state Senate also recently passed draconian voter suppression legislation that would have criminalized Texans who vote when ineligible, even if they do so unwittingly. That measure, which also would have restricted people from assisting others to vote, died in the state’s House last month.
This story has been updated with a statement released by Abbott’s office to the news media.