If Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has any self-respect, he should be shaking his head in embarrassment. His December appointee as Texas secretary of state, David Whitley, has clearly presided over not-ready-for-primetime shenanigans involving discovery that “approximately 95,000 individuals identified by [the Texas Department of Public Safety] as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in Texas, approximately 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more Texas elections.” Since making this widely disseminated announcement on Friday, Whitley’s office has been quietly walking back the claims.
Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy could have done better than this. As Texas Monthly senior editor Carlos Sanchez reports, no less than Carlos Cascos, former secretary of state under Abbott, says Whitley should rescind his list and get it right. Now it’s in the hands of the state attorney general.
Already these claims are being used in GOP fundraising. Yet by Monday, Whitley’s office was busy informing elections administrators around the state that, well, shucks, some of those suspicious voters identified last week are U.S. citizens. Here in McLennan County, Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe was told by the SOS that the 366 local folks to be investigated are, oops, U.S. citizens. In short, the evidence appears to be in: Whitley’s competence is far more questionable than those 366 individuals who may well be our friends, neighbors and co-workers.
Meanwhile, the president of the United States, after tweeting (and with some justification) about the national press’ rush to judgment about an all-boys Catholic school and a Native American activist clashing — he proclaimed the boys “symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be” — lost little time himself tweeting out this bit of evil on the Lord’s Sabbath: “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID! @foxandfriends.”
Even Whitley had advised caution in jumping to the very conclusion Trump leaped to. It’s quite possible, for instance, a non-citizen got his or her driver’s license from Texas DPS before becoming a citizen with voting rights. Which all conjures up the spectacle of the president’s voting integrity commission, which Trump set loose after making unsubstantiated claims that between 3 million and 5 million ballots were illegally cast in the 2016 presidential election. The commission disbanded after finding no proof of widespread voting fraud, the favorite bogeyman of the new Republicanism now rampant.
By now even the blind can see a pattern, one that aligns with what beleaguered U.S. intelligence officials say is a goal of our Russian enemies: creating suspicion about the legitimacy of our elections and undermining democracy. And, no, we aren’t saying Whitley is a tool of the Russians, at least not wittingly so. However, his office’s actions last Friday define the very word “precipitous,” further fueling conspiracy theories encouraged by our president. Let’s hope Whitley spends the rest of his tenure encouraging hassle-free voting instead of bolstering talk-radio myths and social-media malevolence.