Washington (CNN)Texas agreed to end an initiative that a Latino civil rights group said intimidated voters based on a false narrative of voter fraud, a settlement released Friday showed.
Texas settles lawsuit, agrees to $450K payment after Latino group accuses state of intimidating voters
The settlement said the state would back down from an advisory announced earlier this year and inform county-level officials "to take no further action on any data files" the Texas secretary of state's office sent claiming thousands of non-citizens were on electoral rolls. Additionally, the state agreed to pay the plaintiffs $450,000 for legal fees and other costs, according to the settlement document.
The lawsuit from the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens with a coalition of civil rights groups and other plaintiffs sought to block the state from implementing an initiative to use state data to "match potential non-US citizens who have registered to vote" and then flag those registrations to the county level, where county voter registrars could then "take action." The Texas group said the effort was flawed and would wrongly target naturalized citizens.
The settlement agreement said the secretary of state would rescind its former effort and could instead implement a new program to match state IDs to voter registration data under specific criteria, including "comparing the effective date of a person's voter registration" to when the state last identified someone as a noncitizen -- an effort, the settlement said, meant the state would send county officials records of voters who were not citizens at their effective time of voter registration.
Civil rights groups had argued the state's previous effort would erroneously turn up many naturalized citizens legally registered to vote as non-citizens who should not be registered due to the state's effort to match older state data with voter registrations.
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley touted that provision within the settlement, saying in a statement that it would allow his office "to develop a sustainable non-citizen list maintenance process."
"It is of paramount importance that Texas voters can have confidence in the integrity, accuracy and efficiency of the electoral system in which they participate," Whitley's statement on the settlement read. "(Friday's) agreement accomplishes our office's goal of maintaining an accurate list of qualified registered voters while eliminating the impact of any list maintenance activity on naturalized US citizens."
CNN has reached out to the secretary of state's office to inquire about the timing of the advisory's withdrawal and where the $450,000 payment will come from.
Domingo Garcia, president of the national League of United Latin American Citizens, told CNN on Monday that the state had "no choice" but to accept that its position was not going to work at trial and move instead to settle. He said the settlement was a "great victory for all Texans" and one step in their direction for the broader fight against what he called "severe voter suppression efforts" around the country to improve electoral conditions for Republicans at the expense of minority voters.
"It's based on the fact that Republicans have -- at least in Texas -- have stopped trying to reach out and win Hispanic votes via their policies and ideals and now have resorted to an unfortunate, age-old tradition of voter suppression, going from the Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, whites only primaries, voter-ID and now, you know, purging of voters from the rolls," Garcia said.
The Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said the new process in the agreement was "much more limited in scope" and that the coalition of civil rights groups in the agreement "retain the right to bring another challenge to the process if the state continues to discriminate or violate protected rights."
"We are glad that the state has agreed to give up this misguided effort to eliminate people from the voter rolls," Andre Segura, ACLU Texas legal director, said in a statement.
The controversy began in January when Whitley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the advisory and said Whitley's office had discovered about 95,000 potential non-US citizens registered to vote in Texas -- 58,000 of whom Whitley's office claimed voted in at least one Texas election. President Donald Trump seized on the numbers, claiming without evidence that they were the "tip of the iceberg."
The Campaign Legal Center, which opposed the Texas effort, said Whitley's initial list "was largely comprised of Texans," and declared the settlement a victory for the civil rights groups. At the same time, the group warned a bill in the Texas legislature regarding elections in the state "threatens to undermine the agreement," potentially marking a new front in the ongoing fight over voter access and identification.
The Dallas Morning News said the agreement could also bolster Whitley's chances of staying on as secretary of state on a permanent basis. Whitley has held the role in an interim capacity, and state Democrats had stalled his nomination, citing the disputed advisory, according to the Morning News. The paper said it was unclear if the suit would allow Whitley enough support to gain confirmation before he would have to step down at the end of the current legislative session in May.