Brewster County demands some residents must prove citizenship

One resident’s voter registration revoked

ALPINE – On January 25, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley mailed county election officials across Texas a list of names that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) had identified as non-citizens who were allegedly illegally registered to vote in Texas.

Whitley wrote, “Through this evaluation, the Texas Secretary of State’s office discovered that a total of approximately 95,000 individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in Texas, approximately 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more Texas elections.”

Three days after the list was sent, Alexandra Moldovan of Alpine received a letter from Brewster County, entitled: “Notice to registered voter for proof of citizenship.” It went on to read in English and Spanish, “Your registration status is being investigated because there is reason to believe you may not be a United States citizen.” It explained that her citizenship was in question either because she had been disqualified from jury duty or she had lawfully acquired a driver’s license from the DPS while not holding non-citizen status, and yet, was on the Texas voter rolls.

Moldovan, however, is a United States citizen. Born in Romania, she moved to the United States in 2010, received a Texas Drivers License in 2015, and became a naturalized US citizen in September 2017. She registered to vote at her naturalization ceremony where she became a citizen, and has the right to vote as a naturalized US citizen.

Now she is being asked by Brewster County to verify her citizenship and prove her right to vote. Essentially, Moldovan must now produce evidence that she is innocent, and that she did not commit the second-degree felony of illegally voting in a Texas election.

When asked about receiving the notice, Moldovan said, “It was intimidating and it was unpleasant.”

She added, “When I got my citizenship, my understanding was that I got full rights like everyone born in this country. Whatever treatment everybody else gets, I get also. If my neighbors didn’t get a letter, I shouldn’t get a letter. It’s very simple. Why do I have to prove my citizenship? I’m doing my part in the community, I’m paying taxes, building a business, serving my community where I can, helping out, so I shouldn’t have to go through this.”

When the DPS data of non-citizens who legally obtained driver’s licenses was compared to current voter rolls, the Secretary of State’s office did not consider that many, like Moldovan, got licenses as non-citizens, and later went on to become naturalized citizens who legally registered to vote.

Moldovan said, “I am not required to go back to the Department of Public Safety and tell them that I am a citizen after I got a citizenship. They should update their databases.”

In Brewster County, Election Administrator Lora Nussbaum received the Secretary of State’s list, and took immediate action to notify those listed that they must verify their citizenship to avoid being purged from the voter rolls. It was only upon receiving further information from nonprofit voting groups that Nussbaum learned the notices were optional. Brewster County sent notices before the initial non-citizen list was revised and shortened.

In documents obtained by the Big Bend Sentinel from Brewster County through an open records request, the Secretary of State identified at least 16 Brewster County residents as non-citizens. The county sent notices, but the packet reveals that after more research, the county mailed a handful of letters rescinding the original notice once documentation of citizenship was found for some of the 16 listed as “non-citizens” by the state.

However, the county has also taken action to cancel at least one Brewster County voter’s registration, and expunged them from the voter roll.

Whitley, the highest-ranking election official in Texas, immediately turned over the list of 95,000 names to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has the power to bring prosecutions of those illegally registered for felony crimes. The decision to turn over the list before those listed had first been verified as illegal voters has caused top Texas Democrats to question the entire process.

On January 28, the same day Moldovan received her notice from Brewster County, Nussbaum received a letter from a cohort of Texas nonprofits focused on voting rights. They detailed to county election officials that the “responsibility for investigating whether a registered voter is eligible to vote is vested with the County Voter Registrar, not with the Secretary of State.” They continued, “Further, any actions taken based on this list are likely to violate federal law.”

Already, activist groups are filing lawsuits against the state. So far, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Texas NAACP, League of Women Voters of Texas, Jolt Initiative, MOVE, and others have brought lawsuits. ACLU of Texas, ACLU national, and Texas Civil Rights Project are legally representing the groups. The organizations allege that the state has violated the equal protections clause, putting an undue burden on citizens’ voting rights, is discriminating against naturalized citizens, and LULAC alleges that the list is “voter intimidation and voter suppression of primarily Latino voters.” The state has already admitted that they inadvertently included tens of thousands of US citizens in the original list of 95,000 names.

Presidio County Tax Assessor-Collector Natalia Williams, whose duties include voter registration, was unavailable for comment this week, but in neighboring Jeff Davis County, Sheriff and Tax Assessor-Collector William “Bill” Kitts still has not received any list or information from the Secretary of State. Sherriff Kitts said, “I know it’s in the wind, but we haven’t gotten any email or heads up or instruction on what to do.” He added, “If it’s not mandated it’s not something that’s on our top priority list.”

As for Moldovan, she hasn’t gone to the courthouse to prove her citizenship yet, and she’s not sure if she will; she’s still thinking about it. She says, “It’s easy enough to do in a small town like this, but it does take away time from my work, and whatever else I need to do. It’s reinforcing a flawed system that’s trying to pursue certain people. Why would I encourage that? I haven’t made a decision about it.”

Moldovan says, “They only have to search the federal database” to find her citizenship. “Today it’s me, tomorrow it’s maybe going to be someone of a different color. Things that were once inconceivable are now a practice.”