Feb. 28 (UPI) -- A federal judge has ordered Texas officials to stop removing tens of thousands of registered voters from state rolls.
Texas officials started this month going through thousands of drivers license records to match them with voter registration records. The goal was to find non-citizens who were registered to vote.
Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said the process has been flawed and has created a mess. Of the 98,000 names on the list, about 80 have been identified as being ineligible to vote. The court found no widespread evidence of voter fraud, Biery said.
"Perfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state, which did not politely ask for information but rather exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us," Biery said in his ruling. "No native born Americans were subjected to such treatment."
Texas Secretary of State David Whitely apologized and accepted responsibility. State Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement he has an obligation to maintain the integrity of the voter rolls, and that non-U.S. citizens cannot vote.
"There is no need for a federal court takeover of state activities," Paxton said. "We are weighing our options to address this ruling and to continue making our case that ineligible voters should not vote and counties are free to continue to follow the law and keep their voter rolls clean."
Biery said election officials can investigate whether someone is a citizen but they cannot contact them directly.
Attorneys for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a restraining order and a lawsuit to challenge Paxton and Whitely's actions. In a statement Thursday, MALDEF President and general counsel Thomas Saenz said the court ruling makes it clear Texas must clean up its act.
"Over-the-top pronouncements of widespread voter fraud without a shred of evidence only serve to broadly deter voter participation," Saenz said. "Sending ominous letters to intimidate individual voters based on information known to be incomplete and faulty directly threatens democracy."