Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, who was behind the botched effort to remove alleged noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls, reportedly resigned Monday as the 86th Legislature came to a close.
Whitley, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in December, needed a two-thirds vote from the Senate to be confirmed to the position, but voting rights groups put pressure on Texas Democrats to stop the confirmation following his voter purge efforts.
Under the Texas Constitution, lawmakers must confirm appointments before the legislative session officially ends. If they don’t, the appointee has to immediately vacate the position and the governor must choose someone else. That person serves in the position until lawmakers weigh in during a regular session.
Resistance from Democrats presumably held up the Senate vote.
Before his nomination was completely dead, though, the Austin American-Statesman reports, Whitley delivered a resignation letter to Abbott, “effective immediately.”
Earlier this year, Whitley’s office sent local election officials a list of more than 90,000 people it suspected might not be citizens. Whitley, the state's chief elections officer, asked officials to vet the list and possibly remove those names from voter rolls.
The list was compiled by flagging the names of people who at one point told the Texas Department of Public Safety they were not citizens and then also registered to vote within several years.
Immigrant rights and voting rights groups accused the state of intentionally targeting recently naturalized citizens, who have the right to vote.
In the final days of the session, a coalition of voting groups, civil rights groups and immigrant rights groups sent a letter to Texas Democrats urging them to “turn the page on the Whitley purge scandal by continuing to remain united against Mr. Whitley’s confirmation.”
The coalition included the League of Women Voters of Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Workers Defense Action Fund and the Texas NAACP, among others.
“No one can trust that Mr. Whitley will act any differently than these initial revealed instincts once this layer of accountability – the confirmation process – is removed,” the groups said in a statement Friday.
Anthony Gutierrez is the executive director of Common Cause Texas, one of the groups opposed to Whitley’s confirmation. He said the fact that the Texas Senate didn't take up the vote for his confirmation early in the session has one drawback.
“Whoever the new appointee is basically gets 18 months or so until the next legislative session before they go through the nomination process and have to be confirmed,” he said.
Gutierrez said groups would have preferred if the nomination were rejected early.
“We really wanted the Whitley nomination to be pulled down early in this session so that this Senate nominations committee would have the opportunity to vet this person now,” he said, “and not just sort of give them two years on the job before anybody gets to ask them any questions.”
Whitley’s voter-removal effort was halted by a federal court in February. State officials eventually settled the matter with voting groups and Texas voters. The state is now prohibited from attempting a similar voter purge.