Washington (CNN)A prominent Latino civil rights group has sued two top Texas officials, accusing them of voter intimidation and propagating a false narrative about voter fraud in the state.
Latino civil rights group accuses Texas officials of intimidating voters
The suit from the national and Texas branches of the League of United Latin American Citizens against Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton came in response to statements from the two Republican officials last week saying Whitley's office had discovered about 95,000 potential non-US citizens registered to vote in Texas.
The statement from Whitley's office said roughly 58,000 of those identified had voted in at least one Texas election and pledged to investigate and refer individuals who are registered improperly to county registrars for further action.
Domingo Garcia, president of LULAC, said in a news conference on Tuesday that the advisory was an attempt by Republicans in Texas to "cheat their way to power."
"Voter fraud is a lie," Garcia said. "It's a big lie made to disenfranchise primarily African-American, Latino voters in Texas."
In a statement, Paxton's office said, "We look forward to defending Texas' policy of assuring that each person on our voter rolls is actually eligible to vote."
CNN has reached out to Whitley's office for comment.
The announcement from Whitley's office last week about potential voter fraud raised familiar alarm bells in Texas and across the nation. President Donald Trump has sought to elevate allegations of widespread voter fraud despite no evidence that it occurs outside of rare, individual instances.
Paxton took to Twitter to announce Whitley's findings, issuing a tweet that amassed tens of thousands of retweets by Wednesday morning.
"VOTER FRAUD ALERT: The @TXsecofstate discovered approx 95,000 individuals identified by (the Texas Department of Public Safety) as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in TX, approx 58,000 of whom have voted in TX elections. Any illegal vote deprives Americans of their voice," Paxton tweeted.
On Sunday, Trump seized on the numbers from Texas, saying without evidence that they were the "tip of the iceberg." He later retweeted Paxton as well.
"58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID! @foxandfriends," Trump tweeted.
Whitley's announcement said his office would use state data on a monthly basis to "match potential non-US citizens who have registered to vote" and then flag those registrations to the county level, where county voter registrars can "take action."
"Integrity and efficiency of elections in Texas require accuracy of our state's voter rolls, and my office is committed to using all available tools under the law to maintain an accurate list of registered voters," Whitley said in a statement last week.
But Garcia, the LULAC president, said his group's initial review showed Whitley's evaluation was wrong and that a large share of the registered voters in the report were naturalized citizens.
LULAC's legal complaint, filed in a Texas federal court, invoked a section of the Voting Rights Act forbidding voter intimidation and said Whitley and Paxton's efforts were an attempt to "intimidate legitimate registered voters from continuing to participate in the election process."
The system Whitley's office used to go through state data failed to take the naturalization process into account, the complaint said.
The suit asked for the Texas officials' moves to be declared in violation of federal law and for a preliminary and permanent injunction barring the officials "from further actions in connection" with the advisory.
The American Civil Liberties Union and others who have long warned about such messages being used to limit voting access pushed back on the Texas officials' claim.
Andre Segura, legal director at ACLU Texas, said in a blog post that Texas did not know if the people flagged were actually noncitizens. The group said it had asked Texas to rescind the advisory and warned counties not to act on the advisory alone to "ensure that they do not act discriminatorily or infringe on the right to vote."