AG’s office to investigate Starr County man’s concern over mailers

The Secretary of State’s office has referred a Starr County man’s complaint over voter registration forms to the Texas Attorney General’s office for investigation.

The forms, mailed out by the Texas Democratic Party, come with some checkboxes already marked, indicating they are filling out a new application. The pre-filled checkboxes ask whether the applicant is a U.S. citizen and if they’re over 18 years of age.

The application also warns that giving false information to procure a voter registration is perjury, punishable by up to 180 days in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.

Additionally, the form instructs people to affirm they are a resident of the country and a U.S. citizen, have not been finally convicted of a felony — or if they are, have completed their punishment — and have not been determined by final judgment to be totally or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote before signing the document.

David Kifuri Jr., a former employee of the 229th District Attorney’s Office, posted images of the documents on social media, chastising the Texas Democratic Party for sending the pre-filled forms to non-eligible residents.

“Texas Democratic Party it’s a shame that you are part of the problem and not the solution,” Kifuri wrote in a Facebook post Oct. 3. “Sending these pre-filled forms to non elegible (sic) Residents asking them to sign and return these forms. Shameful.”

In a signed affidavit, Kifuri stated he was contacted earlier that day by several relatives, who are legal permanent residents, about receiving the mailers.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative advocacy group, took up the case and alerted state, local and federal law enforcement, according to a news release the organization issued last week.

Then on Monday, the secretary of state’s office referred the matter to the attorney general’s office.

“After review of the submitted documentation, we believe the information regarding the offense warrants a submission for criminal investigation,” stated the referral letter from Keith Ingram, director of elections, to David Maxwell, the director of law enforcement at the attorney general’s office.

The secretary of state’s office received the complaint from PILF but also began receiving calls about the mailers about two weeks before the voter registration deadline, said Sam Taylor, communications director for the secretary of state’s office.

“We started receiving calls from, not just the Rio Grande Valley but, from all over Texas about two weeks ahead of the voter registration deadline,” Taylor said. “And (we) received calls from people who were confused. They were lawfully present non-citizens, usually green card holders, who would call us and say, ‘Does this mean I’m eligible to vote now?’ and they were very confused as to why they were receiving these mailers.”

The main concern with the mailers, Taylor said, is the possible violation of section 13.007 of the Texas Election Code, which makes it a Class B misdemeanor to falsify a voter registration application or attempt to induce someone to falsify a voter registration application.

“If we get a complaint about any criminal activity alleged, we have to refer it to the attorney general’s office in order for them to investigate,” Taylor said.

But what is criminal in the eyes of Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, are the actions of state legislators.

“This secretary of state and the people who are directing him to act have, for some reason, never been concerned about the policy of the Republicans running this state to intentionally suppress the vote of minority voters,” Hinojosa said. “All of a sudden, because we’re trying to increase participation of voters, they have somehow created this fictionalized argument that somehow we were intentionally sending voter registration forms to non-citizens.”

When asked about the confusion the mailers may have caused among non-citizens, Hinojosa said it should be clear that only U.S. citizens can register to vote.

“There shouldn’t even be a box that says whether or not you are a citizen; you should only be registering to vote if you are a citizen,” Hinojosa said. “The problem that happens with this state is that they use hyper-technical laws to prevent people from registering to vote and to prevent people from voting.”

Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director for the Texas Democratic Party, pointed out that Texas ranks last in the country for voter turnout and, unlike other states, does not offer online voter registration, same-day or automatic voter registration.

“In Texas, churches, clubs, community organizations, nonprofits, political parties, and campaigns are left to use imperfect data to overcome cumbersome voter registration obstacles,” Garcia wrote in a prepared statement.

Garcia stated the party used data from the secretary of state’s voter file, national change of address information, and consumer data to mail out the applications to people who may have moved to the state, changed their or a relative’s address, or “are members of Texas’ diverse and rising electorate.”

“These data sets are large, complicated, and imperfect,” Garcia stated. “Nonetheless, every mail piece makes it absolutely clear that applicants are affirming under penalty of perjury that they meet all of the eligibility requirements to vote.”

Taylor said it’s legal for anybody in Texas to pass out blank voter registration applications and that campaigns do so all the time.

“We’d heard calls about something like this in recent years — one or two people being confused as to why they’re receiving a voter registration application if they’re already registered, for example,” Taylor said, “but this was a confusion on a much larger scale.”