The Texas Secretary of State sent an advisory to the state’s registrars today which announced that his office had identified evidence of thousands of non-citizens voting in the state between 1996 and 2018. From the Star-Telegram:

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley said a year-long evaluation found about 95,000 people described as “non-U.S. citizens” who are registered to vote in Texas. About 58,000 of them voted in Texas elections between 1996 and 2018, Whitley said.

Naturally, there are voter advocacy groups already claiming that voter fraud doesn’t happen and questioning the validity of the Secretary of State’s data:

Some civil rights officials weighed in Friday, acknowledging that the numbers are alarming. But they question whether the list includes duplications and factors in that about 50,000 Texas residents become naturalized citizens every year.

It’s not surprising that officials announced this news “using alarmist language that is clearly intended to advance a false political narrative to further restrict access to the ballot box,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The Houston Chronicle has additional objections from the same group but the Secretary of State’s office says the data is accurate:

“There is no credible data that indicates illegal voting is happening in any significant numbers, and the Secretary’s statement does not change that fact,” said Beth Stevens, Voting Rights Legal Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Stevens said she is concerned about how the state is identifying the suspected non-citizen voters.

The Secretary of State’s office insists the data is accurate and relies on documents that the voters themselves submitted to DPS when they were trying to obtain drivers licenses. Non-citizens are eligible to get a Texas drivers license, but they are not allowed to register to vote.

“It is important to note that we are not using information self-reported by the person regarding citizenship status; rather, we are using documents provided by the person to show they are lawfully present in the United States,” the state’s director of elections, Keith Ingram, wrote in a notice to registrars in all 254 counties in Texas.

I don’t have a problem with civil rights groups challenging the contents of this list. Voting is an important right and it makes sense to look carefully at the evidence before striking someone’s name from the rolls. That said, it’s a little hard to believe that all 58,000 names are a mistake of one kind or another and at this moment, Beth Stevens doesn’t have any proof that’s the case.

Also, it’s not as if the Texas Secretary of State makes this announcement and suddenly the names on his list are removed. The Secretary of State in Texas doesn’t have the power to remove anyone from the voter rolls, so that will be done by county-level registrars. Those officials will check the names and give each identified person 30 days to demonstrate proof of citizenship. Only if they fail to do that or don’t respond at all will they be removed from the rolls.

It seems to me what’s really at stake here is the presumption that large-scale voter fraud doesn’t happen. If Texas can substantiate even a fraction of this list it would change the dynamic of future conversations about non-citizen voting. We’ll have to wait and see if that happens.