New emails show Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was behind botched voter purge

Despite denials, emails show that Abbott's office made an "urgent request" for alleged illegal voting records

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published June 5, 2019 7:03PM (EDT)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (AP/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (AP/Eric Gay)

Newly released emails show that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was the driving force behind the state’s botched voter purge that led to Secretary of State David Whitley’s resignation.

The Campaign Legal Center published Texas Department of Public Safety emails subpoenaed in a court battle over the botched voter purge, which was blocked after it wrongly flagged many naturalized citizens as illegal voters. The emails show that Abbott pushed for the voter information used to initiate the would-be purge, though Abbott’s office denied to the Austin American-Statesman that he “gave a directive to initiate this process.”

The 46 pages of emails show that DPS officials and the secretary of state’s office discussed data that was needed to determine if any registered voters were non-citizens.

“The Governor is interested in getting this information as soon as possible,” Amanda Arriaga, director of the DPS driver’s license division, wrote to other department officials last August.

An email later that day from John Crawford of the DPS information technology division asked department officials for an update on the citizenship data the agency had.

“We delivered this information earlier in the year, and we have an urgent request from the Governor’s Office to do it again,” Crawford wrote.

Despite the emails being turned over by DPS, Abbott’s office denied that he was behind the botched voter purge.

“This is patently false,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman told the Statesman. “Neither the governor nor the governor’s office gave a directive to initiate this process.”

The DPS citizenship data was based on immigrants who indicated on their forms that they were non-citizens when they applied for a driver’s license or state identification card.

An early version of the list included more than 4 million names, according to the Statesman.

In January, then-Secretary of State David Whitley claimed that a crosscheck of the DPS data and the voter rolls found that nearly 100,000 non-citizens were illegally registered to vote and 58,000 had illegally cast ballots.

The announcement was blasted out to millions of people when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted the report out with “VOTER FRAUD ALERT” in all-caps. It was promptly shared by President Trump, who claimed the report proved that “voter fraud is rampant.”

Abbott tweeted to thank Whitley “for uncovering and investigating this illegal vote registration.”

“I support prosecution where appropriate,” Abbott added. “The State will work on legislation to safeguard against these illegal practices.”

Within days of the announcement, it became apparent that many of the people on the list — which went as far back as 1996 — had indicated they were non-citizens when they applied for a driver’s license or ID but had since become naturalized citizens and were eligible to vote.

Federal Judge Fred Biery halted the purge after Whitley apologized to lawmakers for including erroneous information but said he still planned to go ahead with the purge.

Biery barred the state from removing any names from the voter rolls without court approval, calling Whitley’s methodology “inherently paved with flawed results.”

Biery wrote that Whitley’s office had burdened “perfectly legal, naturalized Americans” with “ham-handed and threatening correspondence, which did not politely ask for information, but rather exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us.”

Whitley resigned last month after it became apparent that he would not be confirmed to the job by the state Senate as a result of the botched purge.

KVUE reported that shortly after Whitley submitted his resignation, Abbott rehired him as a special adviser at a $205,000 annual salary.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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