Texas attorney general David Whitley — who earlier this year tried unsuccessfully to purge thousands from state voter rolls — has resigned.
Sadly, the aggressive voter suppression efforts that have become infamous in the state are not leaving with him, election rights advocates said.
Whitley, who was appointed acting secretary of state in December by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), resigned Monday after failing to get enough votes to be confirmed to the post by the state legislature.
Democrats succeeded in blocking Whitley’s confirmation on Memorial Day, the last day of the state’s legislative session. Republicans are in the majority in the legislature, but Democrats have sufficient numbers to deny him confirmation.
Voting rights advocates are celebrating Whitley’s forced departure, but said they have no illusions that his successor will be any more committed to upholding voting rights for all Texans.
“There is certainly every reason to believe that these types of voter suppression tactics will continue with the next nominee,” Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Texas, told ThinkProgress.
Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party, told ThinkProgress that Whitley had promised Democratic and Republican officials shortly after assuming office in January that he would run a fair election system.
Within weeks, however, 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.
Gutierrez said he was not overly optimistic that a change in personnel will lead to the end of Republican voter suppression efforts.
“Texas has a long history of using systemic obstacles to limit participation,” Gutierrez said. “I have no question that we’ll keep seeing a variety of voter suppression tactics until we have a greater number of legislators and statewide elected officials who want to see more Texans voting and participating in our democracy.”
Like other Republican-controlled states, Texas over the years has introduced a raft of new voter 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, particularly when the intention is to discriminate against minority voters. Some bills that have been struck down required voters to present approved IDs at the polls and made racist gerrymandering possible.
Maxey said he believes the massive voter purge attempted by Whitley was probably the brainchild of Gov. Abbott or Attorney General Ken Paxton, and suspects that Whitley simply was carrying out orders.
“He did not come up with this plan on his own. He wasn’t even in office long enough to come up with it,” he said. “Either he was boldface lying to us or it was something that happened that was cast with his signature or his name attached.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to requests from ThinkProgress for comment.
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 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 week.
The new acting secretary of state whom Abbott appoints won’t have to go through the confirmation process until the legislature reconvenes in 2021. And that person, Maxey said, could put into place election policies just as insidious as those of his predecessor.
“The actions David Whitley took were part of a well thought-out plot to suppress the vote,” Maxey told ThinkProgress. “It was done to make people less likely to participate in this process even if they were naturalized and allowed to participate,” he added.
“I have little hope that the next secretary of state will be any better.”