WASHINGTON D.C. — On Tuesday, Aug. 2, a federal court in Texas ordered Texas Secretary of State John Scott (R) to produce documents pertaining to the state’s voter purge program, which flags registered voters as potential noncitizens, risking these voters’ registration status. The recently implemented purge program uses Department of Public Safety records (which are often outdated and therefore do not reflect a person’s current citizenship status) to determine citizenship status; this system puts eligible voters who were naturalized more recently at risk of being unlawfully purged from the voter rolls. In February, the Campaign Legal Center, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dēmos filed a lawsuit against Scott alleging that his failure to provide records regarding the voter purge program violates the Public Disclosure provision of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). On Aug. 2, the court declared that the secretary’s “refusal to release the [r]ecords upon [p]laintiffs’ requests” violates the NVRA and ordered that the information be provided “pertaining to the 11,246 registered voters identified as potential non-citizens” within 14 days.
In its order, the court rejected Scott’s arguments that the information is protected by various federal laws. The court summarized its findings by stating that it “suspects that the Secretary’s refusal to disclose the Records has less to do with the interests of the individuals identified in the Records and more to do with the Secretary’s own interests.” The court concluded that the NVRA’s purpose is “to increase the number of citizens who register to vote while balancing the need for accurate and current voter registration rolls” and stated that the Public Disclosure provision adds an additional layer of transparency that is necessary “[c]onsidering the shortcomings of the [s]ecretary’s previous program.” The court concluded that “additional oversight and transparency will greatly serve the public interest” and help ensure that voters’ registrations aren’t improperly placed at risk due to incorrect citizenship information.