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Secretary of State grilled by lawmakers over voter investigation at confirmation hearing

At a Senate Nominations Committee Thursday, lawmakers grilled the acting Secretary of State David Whitley. (Image courtesy: Texas Senate)

At a Senate Nominations Committee Thursday, lawmakers grilled the acting Secretary of State, David Whitley.

Governor Greg Abbott's pick for the office answered questions for hours about the list his office sent out last month of 95,000 potential 'non-citizens' registered to vote.

Thousands on the list have since been found to be U.S. citizens by county officials.

Whitley said the list was compiled from new data from the Department of Public Safety. "When we received the data from DPS, we were confident it was their best data to determine who in their database were non-citizens," said Whitley, defending the list.

Senator Kirk Watson repeatedly asked Whitley to acknowledge the mistake, but Whitley never clearly admitted his office was at fault. Whitley also wouldn't say why his office sent a press release before confirming the names on the list were accurate. Instead, Whitley testified that he wanted to get the data in the hands of someone with "investigative authority" quickly. Later, he said he encouraged counties to sort through the data to look for mistakes.

Senator Royce West questioned whether he concedes that the move could be an act of voter suppression. He also asked him to define the term "voter suppression." Whitley said he didn't think it was relevant.

The League of United Latin American Citizens is one of three civil rights groups who name Whitley in a lawsuit claiming he and other state leaders attempted to intimidate legal voters.

"It was intentional, it was malicious, and with the specific purpose of disenfranchising voters in Texas," said LULAC president Domingo Garcia.

Garcia said they are calling for lawmakers to vote no on Whitley's confirmation.

Julieta Garibay was included on the list and testified before lawmakers. She said it took her two decades to go through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, and she was shocked to learn her rights were at risk. "I felt intimidated," she said. "I felt frustratedEven questioning myself if I did something wrong. Like oh my gosh, am I going to end up in jail."

The Nominations Committee will take a vote next week to send the issue to the full Senate for a vote. Whitley will need two-thirds of senators to confirm his nomination.

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