Federal judge temporarily blocks Texas from purging voters in citizenship review

In a major victory for voting rights groups, a federal judge has ordered that no Texas county should purge suspected noncitizen voters from the rolls or issue letters demanding that they prove their citizenship “without prior approval of the Court with a conclusive showing that the person is ineligible to vote.”

The Wednesday order from U.S. District Judge Fred Biery comes a month after the Texas secretary of state flagged nearly 100,000 voters for citizenship review — and a flurry of civil rights groups filed three lawsuits to block state and county officials from purging voters based on what has proven a deeply flawed set of data.

Biery ordered that as the litigation continues, counties can “continue to find out if in fact someone is registered who is not a citizen” — some local officials have proposed comparing lists of flagged voters with names of individuals made citizens at recent naturalization ceremonies, for example — but may not communicate directly with any particular individual on the list. Reaching out to a voter to demand proof of citizenship starts the clock on a process that can lead to that voter being purged from the rolls.

The approximately 98,000 voters on the state’s original list were registered voters who had, at some point in recent years, identified themselves as noncitizens to the Department of Public Safety while receiving or renewing their driver’s licenses. But tens of thousands of those individuals, it has come out in recent weeks, were naturalized before registering to vote, making casting a ballot legal. Drivers need to update their licenses every six years, and naturalized citizens are not required to update DPS when their legal status changes.

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