Texas Democrats could face “serious consequences” for mailing voter registration forms to ineligible non-citizens in South Texas that were pre-filled to indicate the applicants are U.S. citizens.

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Thursday:

“A complaint says the Texas Democratic Party asked noncitizens to register to vote, sending applications with citizenship box pre-checked. This is being investigated. If true there will be serious consequences.”

The complaint alerted local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to “altered voter registration applications” mailed by the Texas Democratic Party:

“Texas Democrat Party mailers circulated around the Rio Grande Valley region of south Texas landed in the hands of lawfully present noncitizens in late September and early October. The envelopes contained voter registration applications where the answers to questions “Are you a United States Citizen?” and “Will you be 18 years of age on or before election day?” were pre-printed “Yes” for each.”

It’s a Class B misdemeanor under the Texas Election Code to make a false statement, or attempt to induce another person to make a false statement, on a voter registration application.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a non-profit law firm dedicated to election integrity, sent the alert to district attorneys in Hidalgo and Starr counties, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

PILF explained that because it represents a sworn statement—and is the only verification of an applicant’s citizenship status required to register—“the voter must answer the important citizenship question on their own.”

It’s a state and federal crime for non-citizens to register to vote or cast ballots, and illegal registration or voting can prevent legal residents from becoming citizens.

The mailers were marked “URGENT!” and read, “Your voter registration application is inside. Complete, sign and return it today!” The TDP further urged recipients—which included already-registered voters, ineligible non-citizens, and deceased individuals—“Mail IMMEDIATELY to be registered to vote in the November 2018 Election!”

A local voter told ABC affiliate KRGV last week she received one of the Democrats’ mailers and it left her confused and concerned.

Non-citizen registration and voting is a problem throughout Texas, largely because the registration process is an honor system. No one verifies applicants’ citizenship; they simply check a box on the form—except, in these cases, the Democrats checked the box for them.

Starr County election officials settled a federal voter roll lawsuit last month involving, among other complaints, non-citizens on the rolls.

The American Civil Rights Union, represented by PILF, filed the lawsuit under the National Voter Registration Act. The NVRA provides private parties like the ACRU and PILF the right to sue when voter registration officials aren’t complying with federal voter list maintenance requirements. PILF has sued Harris County officials for failing to disclose records of non-citizens who registered to vote there.

Earlier this year, Paxton’s office prosecuted a non-citizen who illegally registered to vote in Harris County and voted in multiple elections. The defendant pleaded guilty to two felony voter fraud charges and is set to be deported after serving her jail time.

To prevent more non-citizens from illegally registering and voting due to the Texas Democrats’ efforts, PILF urged Hidalgo and Starr officials to review any pre-filled forms they receive and ensure applicants themselves attest to their citizenship. “The Foundation yields to your office in addition to the state and local election officials on how best to protect ineligible registrants from casting ballots during the 2018 Election,” the complaint concluded.

State Sen. Don Huffines (R–Dallas) has called for an emergency hearing in Dallas to address the issue of voter registration and voting by non-citizens. “Voters deserve answers now,” he said:

“The numbers of non-citizens registering to vote and casting ballots is disturbing, and so is the uncertainty. Election administrators and prosecutors need to give voters straight answers and honest information immediately, and a Senate Select Committee hearing will give them that opportunity to set the record straight.”

Huffines vowed to file legislation in 2019 to verify the citizenship of every applicant who registers to vote in Texas. Legislation banning pre-filled voter registration applications may also be warranted in the upcoming session.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.