David Whitley (R) resigned Monday just months after leading the botched voter purge of nearly 100,000 suspected noncitizens that erroneously targeted.
Whitley's departure came as the Texas Senate failed to confirm his position in a two-thirds majority on the Legislative Session. He submitted his resignation letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) "effective immediately" just before the final gavel, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman. Abbott accepted his resignation shortly afterwards, praising his "moral character and integrity."
Neither Whitley's resignation letter nor Abbott's mentioned the controversy.
"Working alongside the employees in the secretary of state's office, Whitley, 36, wrote in the resignation letter, reproduced by multiple local outlets.
Whitley, a gubernatorial appointee and former aide to Abbott, spent less than six months overseeing Texas elections.
He revealed the investigation in January, causing unsupported fears of rampant voter fraud while emboldening Republican politicians who had similar voter fraud claims – including President Trump. Whitley's office had claimed that, of 95,000 suspected noncitizens, 58,000 had voted in at least one.
But there was a problem: Nearly a quarter of those identified as possible noncitizens were actually naturalized citizens – a realization of the secretary of state's office
Numerous voting rights groups on behalf of threatened voters, in three separate federal lawsuits, and Congress. In February, a Federal Judge Stops Texas from carrying out its "ham-handed" and "threatening" voter purge effort, saying there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. The letters sent to the secretary of state's office to thousands of eligible voters threatening to cancel their registration, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery wrote, "The power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us."
He's laying the blame squarely on Whitley's shoulders, encouraging him to fix the problems while referencing a kindergarten friendly lesson.
"The Court finds and concludes the Secretary of State, though perhaps unintentionally, created this mess," Biery wrote in his Feb. 27 order. "As Robert Fulghum taught in 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,' 'always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes.'"
Texas agreed to stop its investigation of noncitizen voters as Part of a settlement agreement with civil rights groups in April.
Democrats and civil rights groups cheered Whitley's resignation Monday, declaring victory after a common effort among at least 10 civil rights groups to oppose his nomination. "David Whitley lost the trust of Texas voters when he attempted to purge thousands of eligible voters," Workers Defense Action Fund said in a statement.
While both chambers of the Texas Legislature are controlled by Republicans, there are just enough Democrats in the state. Whitley's confirmation of his hearing in February.
"The reality is Democrats showed solidarity on that issue because of Whitley's position of voter suppression," states Sen. Royce West (D -Dallas).
Whitley's office made while investigating ineligible voters had a disproportionate effect on minorities, since naturalized citizens are immigrants. As Biery noted, no native-born citizen was wrongfully threatened with being kicked off the voter rolls;
Making matters worse, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) had threatened to prosecute the suspected illegal voters. "VOTER FRAUD ALERT," he wrote on Twitter in January. Trump also took note of the issue, tweeting "These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. "
Whitley finally apologized to lawmakers for the fiasco a week after hearing his hearing, saying in a letter that the" list maintenance process "- his review of the voter rolls for noncitizens – was purely to ensure compliance.
"I recognize this cause some confusion about our intentions, which were all at maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the voter roll, "he wrote.
Messages left for the Texas secretary of state's office and governor's office were not returned.
Whitley, Abbott wants in the next session, in 2021.