By Allie Morris
Embattled Secretary of State David Whitley -- whose office wrongly challenged the citizenship of thousands of Texas voters -- resigned Monday.
In his resignation letter, Whitley made no mention of the botched voter purge, which ultimately led all 12 senate Democrats to block his confirmation through the legislative session.
"Working alongside the employees in the secretary of state's office, county election officials, and representatives of our #1 trading partner, Mexico, has been my distinct honor and privilege," Whitley wrote to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who nominated him to the job in December. "And to have your trust in doing so goes beyond what I ever dreamed of as a kid growing up in a small South Texas community."
Neither Abbott nor Whitley responded to a request for comment.
Abbott now must name a replacement, who likely won't face confirmation hearings at the Legislature until after the 2020 election. It's not clear who that will be.
Though the state ended the voter purge in April under terms of a settlement agreement with civil rights groups that sued, the next secretary of state can continue efforts to identify and remove non citizens from the voter rolls. But first, the office must revise its screening criteria to ensure that the results are more accurate next time.
Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said he hopes the next nominee will learn from what happened.
"Democrats were united in their concern about the actions that Mr. Whitley took and that hurt a lot of voters and naturalized citizens," he said.
Whitley had to be confirmed by Monday, the end of the legislative session, or he would lose his job. The letter was released shortly before the state Senate adjourned. The next legislative session begins in 2021, after the upcoming election.
Whitley became a lightning rod in January, after his office wrongly flagged tens of thousands of Texans as potential non-citizens to be removed from the voter rolls.
The announcement that nearly 100,000 suspected noncitizen voters had been found was seized upon by President Donald Trump and other top Republicans as evidence of voter fraud. But within days, county election officials found thousands of citizens were erroneously included.
The lawsuit from civil rights groups eventually put a stop to the bungled voter purge.
Luis Vera of San Antonio, national general counsel for The League of United Latin American Citizens, speaking on his own behalf, said Whitley initiated the settlement talks.
"He reached out to us, he did everything to correct this thing," Vera said. "You either get somebody better or somebody worse. You think Gov. Abbott is going to give us somebody better?"
Abbott and other state leaders, meanwhile, have laid blame at the Department of Public Safety, accusing the agency of providing flawed data for the analysis, which began in March 2018. The list was created by comparing DPS driver license records -- some of the records more than 20 years old -- to state voter rolls.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Monday said "it's a shame that DPS didn't take all the responsibility for their failure from the beginning."
"For some reason, no one wanted to pay attention to that because we were too busy head-hunting the secretary of state," he said.
(c)2019 the Houston Chronicle