Civil rights groups file lawsuit against Texas Secretary of State alleging voter suppression

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Nearly 12,000 people have been flagged by the Texas Secretary of State's office as being potential non-citizens.

These people should have received a letter from their county elections administrator asking for proof of citizenship. If there is no response within a certain time frame, they will be purged from the voter roll and will not be able to vote.

"Latinos and Asian Americans comprise the largest number of naturalized citizens in Texas, and they are the ones that are being disproportionately targeted by this legislation," explained Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and other civil rights organizations are suing the Texas Secretary of State over transparency when it comes to how they are identifying potential non-citizens while doing the monthly review of the state's voter rolls, as now required under Senate Bill 1.

SEE RELATED STORY: What to know about changes for mail-in ballots after Senate Bill 1 was signed into law

"So that's disproportionately impacting naturalized citizens who registered after they became citizens and gives them this extra requirement that other voters don't have," said Ashley Harris, an attorney at ALCU of Texas.

The people who the state is identifying as potential non-citizens, 11,737 people so far, are having to provide proof of citizenship to their county elections office to avoid being taken off the voter roll.

According to the secretary of state's office, there have been 382 confirmed non-citizens whose voter registrations were cancelled and 2,170 people whose registrations were cancelled as a result of not responding to the notice asking for proof of citizenship.

So far, the Harris County Elections Administrator sent letters to 2,796 people asking for proof of citizenship. Of the notices they have mailed so far, the office has received 263 responses providing proof of citizenship.

"You have to say, 'What makes an election more or less legitimate? Purging the 250 or 300 non-citizens? Or purging the 10,000 to 15,000 citizens?" said Jones.

Jones said this lawsuit could bring about change, but it will not be for a while.

"It could be that this purge is effectively blocked in the end by the courts, but that will be probably after the 2022 election season," said Jones.

Overall, if you got a letter from your elections administrator asking for proof of citizenship, you will have to provide it if you want to vote.

"If you are a naturalized citizen, it would be in your best interest to go to the county website and ensure that there is no hold on your registration or any issues with it," said Jones.

ABC13 reached out to the secretary of state's office, but they declined to comment on the lawsuit.

When we are not within 90 days of a federal election, the time frame to provide proof of citizenship is 30 days after sending out a letter to the voter letting them know there is a question about their citizenship status.

Since we are within 90 days of elections, the time frame in which you have to respond with proof of citizenship is extended. Harris County Elections Administrator officials said this means the process of removing people from the voter rolls will likely start in June.

If you live in Harris County and have questions about the notice you received or your voter registration, contact the Harris County Elections Administrator's Office at 713-274-8200.

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