Non-citizens are registering and voting in Texas elections, and current election procedures are inadequate to prevent it. One state lawmaker is taking steps to change that.

State Sen. Don Huffines (R–Dallas) said this week that he’ll file legislation in 2019 requiring election officials to proactively verify the citizenship of prospective voters before completing their registration:

“The U.S. Constitution, Texas Constitution, and state law reserve the right to vote for citizens only, and Texans deserve much more than the careless, haphazard enforcement of those provisions. When the Texas Legislature convenes in 2019, I will file legislation to verify the citizenship of every single applicant who registers to vote. It’s an outrage that such a commonsense step isn’t being currently utilized to secure our elections.”

It’s a violation of both state and federal law for non-citizens to register to vote.

Huffines also sent a letter to Dallas County’s Clerk John Warren and Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole requesting an update on efforts to remove self-identified non-citizens from the county’s voter rolls.

Texas election code requires county court clerks to send the county voter registrar (in Dallas, that’s Pippins-Poole) and secretary of state a monthly list of people who claim an exemption to jury duty because they are not citizens. County registrars must then verify the citizenship of those self-reported non-citizens who are on the voter rolls or cancel their registration.

From September 1999 to March 2007, Dallas County cancelled the registrations of 1,889 voters identified as non-citizens, according to research cited by Huffines. Of those, 356 voted in Dallas County elections before being taken off the voter rolls.

Warren and Pippins-Poole, both Democrats, have held their positions since 2007 and 2011, respectively.

Self-reporting by non-citizens summoned for jury duty is currently the only mechanism available to state and county election officials to proactively ensure that ineligible aliens aren’t registering to vote in Texas.

But even that minimal safeguard isn’t being used consistently or effectively. The Texas Attorney General’s Office recently reported that “the process for removing ineligible voters who self-report as non-citizens at jury duty is not being followed correctly, or even at all, in various counties.”

Huffines calls the findings “alarming” and says the public deserves an update on Dallas County’s compliance with the state requirements.

“If non-citizens or illegal aliens are voting in our elections, we need to know about it and stop it immediately,” says Huffines.

Huffines and other lawmakers heard testimony earlier this year confirming that non-citizens are registering and voting in Texas elections — and that there’s no state oversight of county election officials to make sure they’re maintaining accurate voter rolls. State and local officials told members of the Senate Select Committee on Election Security that under the state’s current system, non-citizens can easily register to vote in Texas without being detected.

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), also known as the “Motor Voter” law, made it easier for non-citizens to get on voter rolls by mandating that states offer voter registration by mail and at driver’s license offices. Registering to vote is now an honor system, with no documentation required and no one verifying citizenship – applicants merely check a box (under penalty of perjury) affirming they’re U.S. citizens.

That’s how Rosa Ortega, a Mexican national living legally in the U.S., illegally registered and voted multiple times in Dallas County over a 10-year period. She was finally caught in Tarrant County, when she illegally registered again after initially admitting to election officials there that she wasn’t a citizen. Ortega was convicted of voter fraud last year.

Dallas County prosecutors are currently investigating multiple mail ballot voter fraud cases, but it’s not clear if they have pursued any non-citizens for illegally registering or voting — or even been alerted to them.

Lists of non-citizen jury recusals are required to be sent to the county or district attorney as well as election officials, for investigation of possible perjury or illegal voting. Huffines asked Warren and Pippins-Poole if they are, in fact, reporting non-citizen information to the Dallas County District Attorney.

Requests for similar information have been made in multiple Texas counties by Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), a law firm dedicated to election integrity. Their requests are made under federal law — the NVRA — which includes a transparency provision requiring local election officials to allow public inspection of their voter roll maintenance records. Like Huffines, PILF wants to identify systemic problems in the voter registration process and formulate solutions to ensure only eligible U.S. citizens are voting in Texas elections.

Not all counties are complying with PILF’s requests. PILF sued Harris County in federal court last month for hiding its non-citizen voter records. County Attorney Vince Ryan is dodging federal transparency requirements by claiming that state law protects the county from complying with the NVRA’s public inspection provisions — even though the AG says the county should disclose the records.

With prodding from Huffines, Dallas County officials may be more forthcoming.

“I greatly appreciate the investigations launched by District Attorney Faith Johnson so far, and I look forward to working with her in every way possible to bring about election integrity and security,” Huffines said. “I’m confident our DA will investigate and prosecute any non-citizen who illegally votes in Dallas County.”

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.