Opposition mounts against Texas governor’s election chief

In this Feb. 7, 2019 file photo, Secretary of State David Whitley, left, arrives for his confirmation hearing in Austin, Texas, where he addressed the backlash surrounding Texas' efforts to find noncitizen voters on voter rolls. A key Texas Democrat says he won't back Whitley, Gov. Greg Abbott's embattled choice for secretary of state, whose job is in peril over an inaccurate list of 95,000 voters flagged as possible non-U.S. citizens. (Eric Gay | The Associated Press)


AUSTIN — Opposition intensified Thursday against Texas’ new election chief as a key lawmaker said he won’t back Gov. Greg Abbott’s nominee, who called into question the U.S. citizenship of 95,000 voters using faulty data.

A Senate committee punted on advancing Secretary of State David Whitley’s nomination for a second consecutive week, and civil rights groups stood in front of the Texas Capitol and called on Democrats to block his confirmation.

The sustained pressure comes nearly a month after Whitley’s office gave the inaccurate list to election fraud prosecutors , which stoked new unsubstantiated claims by President Donald Trump of rampant illegal voting.

Abbott’s office hasn’t publicly wavered on Whitley, who must win Senate confirmation by the end of the legislative session to stay in the job. But his future after just three months on the job is looking increasingly tenuous as he loses the support of Senate Democrats, including the party’s caucus leader in the chamber, Jose Rodriguez.

His opposition is significant because Whitley likely cannot be confirmed without Democrats. It takes a two-thirds vote of senators present to confirm a nomination, and Republicans hold 19 of the 31 seats (61 percent).

That gives Democrats a rare position of power in the Texas Legislature, where anger among Hispanic lawmakers lingers over Republicans spending the last decade defending gerrymandered voting maps and a voter ID law.

“Only in extreme circumstances would I not defer to the Governor’s choices. In this case, however, the damage has been done,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Many Texans mistakenly believe evidence of voter fraud has been found. Many now fear to vote, even though they are eligible”

Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in an email that the governor remains “100%” behind Whitley, who was an aide to Abbott prior to his appointment in December.

Governor appointees seldom have their nominations challenged in Texas. But Whitley’s path has been in peril since his office released the list in January, saying at the time that 58,000 of the names were shown to have voted in at least once election since 1996. Within days, however, the state began quietly telling local elections officials that thousands of people were wrongly flagged.

Whitley last week apologized , telling lawmakers that more time should have been spent vetting the names. But that has not satisfied the ACLU and other civil rights groups, who have accused the state of voter suppression and have asked federal courts to stop Texas from being kicking anyone off the voter rolls.

Texas officials say they matched registered voters against records of noncitizens with state IDs. But they failed to exclude scores of people who legally cast ballots only after becoming U.S. citizens.

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