Elections are a precious thing. Not only are they the foundation upon which our communities and nation function, they also are vulnerable.
Texas has made worries of noncitizens voting a major issue, even challenging its own people to prove their eligibility to vote.
With that in mind, one would expect to have a strong leader in place to oversee the upcoming 2020 elections, which include voting for president, members of Congress and Texas legislators. Well, one would be wrong.
David Whitley stepped down from the role of Texas Secretary of State on May 27 after he failed to receive approval from the Texas Senate. His responsibilities included making sure those taking part in our elections are actually U.S. citizens. Gov. Greg Abbott, the one responsible for appointing someone to that position, has remained tight-lipped on the status of filling it.
The governor needs to act fast to ensure voters feel confident going into the polls next year. It’s almost expected when the federal government is operating like this, but more should be expected from the state of Texas.
While the governor was signing bills “saving” Chick-fil-A and weighing in on Whataburger’s new owners, the Secretary of State spot has remained vacant.
“If an appointee is rejected, the office shall immediately become vacant, and the Governor shall, without delay, make further nominations, until a confirmation takes place,” the Texas constitution states.
The role is a vital one, overseeing elections across the state. Whitley was appointed by Abbott in December, but the Texas Senate did not confirm him before the end of the legislative session, marking the end of his short run in the role.
But what a short run it was.
In that time, the Secretary of State’s office released a list of 98,000 potential noncitizens who had voted in Texas elections, which the Texas Tribune reported at least 25,000 of which were in error. It sent state offices into a flurry of litigation that cost taxpayers $450,000 in legal fees, the Tribune reported.
But that’s not the real trouble. What this whole ordeal showed is a willingness on the part of the state to act first and ask questions later when it comes to questioning who is a citizen. Purging voters from rolls simply based on a false suspicion that many were not voting legally sowed distrust over whether the state was more interested in making a political statement or preserving election integrity.
And that alone is enough to have a chilling effect on elections.
By not appointing a stop election official, there is a vacuum of accountability as we look ahead to upcoming elections. And in the current climate of suspected foreign interference in U.S. elections, this couldn’t come at a worse time.
There are people overseeing voting processes in the interim — bureaucracies keep churning even without a leader — but that still leaves the matter of accountability to the governor’s office largely on the table.
Abbott needs to fulfill his responsibility as governor. State leaders have worked to sow distrust in voter rolls and have abandoned leadership to guide them out of this mess.