On Monday, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley resigned his office – the end of an ignominious tenure defined by a botched effort to sniff out alleged voter fraud in the state. For more on why Whitley did what he did, why it failed and what comes next on the issue in Texas, I reached out to Alexa Ura, who is covering the issue for the Texas Tribune. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below. Cillizza: What was the genesis of Whitley’s attempt to scrub the voter rolls? Was this at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott? Ura: The ball was rolling on the citizenship voter roll review well before Abbott appointed Whitley to the position in mid-December. Emails and testimony that came up during litigation against the review showed this effort began early last year under former Secretary of State Rolando Pablos. The review itself was spearheaded by election officials in the secretary of state’s office, who ostensibly pursued it because they claimed they had heard from lawmakers who were concerned the state wasn’t doing enough to ensure noncitizens weren’t on the voter rolls. We talked to officials in the secretary of state’s office early last year who said they had the authority to do this sort of review but weren’t quite ready to launch it (the review would have been in its early stages at the time). That also knew that similar reviews in other states had run into issues with naturalized citizens being swept up. We haven’t uncovered a direct connection between Abbott and the review, and the governor’s office and the attorney general have worked to block emails related to the review from being released to us and other reporters. But the secretary of state’s office is largely seen as an extension of the governor’s office, and Whitley is a former top aide to Abbott. … Cillizza: Was there evidence of any widespread voter fraud in the 2018 midterms in Texas that necessitated this move? Ura: No. And in fact the review started before the midterms. Texas Republicans have long sounded the alarm over concerns about widespread voter fraud, but they’ve never been able to provide the data to back that up. That’s not to say voter fraud does not exist. But there’s no proof it’s rampant as they claim. One of Whitley’s predecessors – Carlos Cascos – was even a self-proclaimed skeptic of these claims. Shortly after the voter rolls review unraveled, Cascos told us he was troubled by the way in which the secretary of state’s initial announcement seemed to confirm the long-held voter fraud beliefs among Republicans even though the numbers put forth were clearly flawed. Cillizza: Why did Whitley’s office make so many errors – 25,000! – in trying to ID noncitizens on the voter rolls? Ura: This gets a little technical, but the errors are rooted in the faulty data the state leaned on. The secretary of state’s office looked at a list of people who had indicated they were noncitizens at some point when they obtained driver’s licenses or ID cards (noncitizens who are legally in the US, like green card holders, can obtain those documents in Texas). The 25,000 names that shouldn’t have been included were the result of “miscommunication” between the secretary of state’s office and the Department of Public Safety over a flag in the data that showed those folks had since demonstrated to the state they were citizens. About half of the 25,000 had actually registered to vote at DPS offices and were coded accordingly in the state’s massive voter registration database. State officials missed that, but it took local election officials just a few days to identify the mistake. The other half had not registered at DPS offices but had demonstrated they had become citizens since first obtaining their driver’s licenses. Beyond those 25,000, we know there are more than 1,000 naturalized citizens who the state cataloged as “possible non-US citizens.” Some of those folks told us they had last renewed their driver’s licenses, which are valid for several years, before becoming US citizens in recent years. Naturalized citizens are not required to update the state on their citizenship until they go back to DPS to renew their IDs so they were still listed as noncitizens in the state’s data. Those are the ones we know about, but it’s possibly many more could have been naturalized citizens. County officials had only just begun – if they started at all – combing through the lists of voters they received from the state before the effort was halted by a federal judge. It’s likely we’ll never know how many individuals on the list were actually naturalized citizens. Cillizza: Despite all of his problems, was it a shock Whitley resigned when he did? Ura: Whitley’s resignation came on the day he would have been kicked out of office anyway. He needed to be confirmed by the [state] Senate before the chamber gaveled out to end the legislative session but hadn’t secured enough votes. Without a vote, the Texas Constitution required him to immediately vacate his office. That said, Whitley was a longtime aide to Abbott before he became secretary of state and was reportedly very close to his family. I don’t think it’s surprising that Abbott would work until the end to try to secure enough votes. The more notable thing about the timing is what it means for Abbott’s freedom to appoint the next secretary of state. As far as we know, the Democrats’ block on Whitley’s confirmation was in place for several months. But by waiting to resign until the last day of the legislative session, Abbott can now pick a new secretary of state as a recess appointment. That means that lawmakers won’t be able to vet that person until they’re back in session. As things stand now, that won’t be until January 2021. Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “Whitley’s failure means __________ for the future of election fraud investigations in Texas.” Now, explain. Ura: “Whitley’s failure means very little for the future of election fraud investigations in Texas.” Abbott and other state officials have shown they are committed to this issue, and it’s unlikely this debacle will discourage Attorney General Ken Paxton from pursuing such investigations. And the secretary of state’s office will still be able to pursue similar reviews. They agreed to shut down the botched review as part of a legal settlement to end the three federal lawsuits the state faced. But that settlement still allows the secretary of state’s office to review the rolls. They just have to modify their methodology so they’re only flagging voters who told DPS they were noncitizens after they registered to vote. We’re still waiting for them to roll out that effort. Perhaps the general public might view future efforts with a bit more skepticism than they did before.