A statement from the Texas Secretary of State said the office was working to comply with Biery’s order.
“At this time, we are preparing a communication to Texas counties,” the statement read. “Secretary Whitley met personally with representatives of the plaintiffs today, solicited their feedback, and made clear that every option is on the table.”
Requests for comment to the attorney general’s office were not immediately returned.
Biery’s order stems from an advisory Whitley’s office sent to counties in late January that said the state had identified 95,000 people on Texas voter rolls who had received driver’s licenses while in the country legally but were not U.S. citizens. The advisory said 58,000 of those had voted in one or more elections since 1996 and asked counties to investigate whether noncitizens were voting.
But civil rights groups and voting rights advocates said those numbers were flawed and did not account for people who had received their licenses while not citizens but had later become citizens. Three lawsuits against the state and several counties followed.
This week, state officials admitted in court that 25,000 people who had already proven their citizenship to the Department of Public Safety had erroneously ended up on the list for investigation.
Biery skewered the Texas secretary of state in his order, concluding that the office “though perhaps unintentionally, created this mess.” He sympathized with the need to ensure that noncitizens were not voting, but criticized the state for its approach.
“Notwithstanding good intentions, the road to a solution was inherently paved with flawed results, meaning perfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the Court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state 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,” he wrote.
He described the state’s realization that it had erroneously placed 25,000 citizens on its initial list for investigation as an “oops moment” and the state’s effort as “a solution looking for a problem.”
“The evidence has shown in a hearing before this Court that there is no widespread voter fraud,” he said. “The challenge is how to ferret the infinitesimal needles out of a haystack of 15 million Texas voters.”
CORRECTION, 2:36 p.m., Feb. 27, 2019: A headline in an earlier version of this story incorrectly said the federal judge had ordered Texas counties not to remove people from voter rolls. The judge ordered the Texas Secretary of State to direct counties not to do so.