AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The hearing was more like a special investigation with Secretary of State David Whitley being grilled about a voter list he released in January. It identified nearly 100,000 people as non-citizens and alleged almost 60,000 had voted.
"Are you familiar with the concept of voter suppression?” asked Senator Royce West (D) Dallas which cut to the core of the issue. "I've heard the term voter suppression used,” replied Whitley which set off the following tense exchange.
West: “No, no, no, how do you define it?"
Whitely: “I think it’s irrelevant in how."
West: “No, you are the Secretary of State, sir, and its relevant to me if I’m going to vote for your confirmation. How do you define Voter Suppression?”
To put a face to that question, Julieta Garibay came to the hearing. Garibay testified she is among those on Whitley's list; even though she gained her citizenship last spring. "It’s my right and my duty to vote. And I will continue to use it. When you got that notice, did you feel intimidated? Yes ... I felt intimidated, I felt frustrated.”
Garibay went on to say the list also create a feeling of doubt. “Even questioning myself, did I do something wrong? Thinking like, oh my god, did I, Am I going end up in jail,” said Garibay.
Whitley testified the list was created with the help of a data processing company he identified as PCC. DPS Driver’s License information was compared to names on local voter rolls.
"I was confident that it was the data,” said Whitley.
Whitley emphasized his office does not investigate voter fraud. That’s why he advised county officials to verify names. As a result, a large number of those identified as non-citizens are in fact legal residents.
Whitley not only had to explain how he got the numbers, he also had to talk about the press releases that went out after those numbers were release. Several Senators indicated the news releases were inflammatory and a rush to judgment.
Senator Kirk Watson (D) Austin asked, "If the list was a simple maintenance update, "why was it immediately necessary to refer it to a law enforcement agency?”
"It was important to me that I got that Data in the hands of somebody who could do something with it,” said Whitley. Whitely also told Houston Democrat Boris Miles that the Attorney General's Office did not help him shape his press release, other than to offer proper legal terms.
Whitely did admit to giving the Governor a head's up. "To my knowledge there were no edits. So the Governor's office approved the media release? I wouldn't characterize it as approving but the governor appointed me and I wanted to make sure that he knew we would be announcing it,” said Whitley.
The Secretary of State left and restated his list was not created to intimidate minority voters. A vote from the committee on whether or not to refer his nomination to the full senate for confirmation will come on the 14th.
There were a few others who testified, like James Keller, to voice their concern about electronic ballot machines. Keller who was a Vote Count Observer in Hays County said he was disappointment the voter list discussion dominated the Nomination Committee hearing. He wanted to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about improving security measures with the electronic ballot machines.