It was a Saturday morning in January 2019, and I had just received a text pointing me to a newspaper article. It was a report of the Attorney General screaming via Twitter ‘Voter Fraud Alert!’ and threatening to investigate thousands of naturalized citizens for allegedly voting illegally. His sentiments were echoed and retweeted by the President; and it seemed like it flew around the world before I could take the first sip of my morning coffee.
Secretary Whitley had identified 98,000 people of potentially committing voter fraud. His conclusion was based on flawed data from DPS: people who had shown themselves as non-citizens when they renewed their drivers license but had subsequently voted months or years later. Whitley’s list took these two pieces of information and incorrectly surmised widespread voter fraud. He completely failed to consider that between these events people had become naturalized citizens. Election Advisory 2019-02 required Election Administrators to send letters asking for proof of citizenship within 30 days or be purged from the rolls.
In 2014 I renewed my driver’s license using my green card. In 2015, I naturalized and registered to vote. In 2016, I voted for the first time. A simple calculation made it very clear, I was on Secretary Whitley’s list. I was devastated. I even considered taking myself off the rolls voluntarily to make this situation go away. I felt vulnerable and very alone.
After 2 days of watching this story grow, I knew I held certain convictions that would not change: I love my country; our Constitution; our rights; our freedoms and our democracy.
And so, in February, on behalf of the 98,000 American citizens, I found myself testifying in Federal Court as a plaintiff alongside LULAC et al. The Judge listened intently, and a few days later ruled that the Advisory discriminated against naturalized citizens and no one should be purged from the rolls unless good reason was proven to the Judge. Two weeks ago, a settlement was reached: the Advisory was rescinded and we citizens had our voter rights restored.
It was a relief. Months of stress and worry were over, but I feel my journey has just begun. We need to speak up and speak out to protect and defend our democracy. Our vote is our voice. It is our chance to say who we want to speak for us and how we would like our country to be. Any attempt to undermine the fundamental act of voting and our free speech, begins to erode our democracy and our freedoms. And in the land of the free, we are not going to let that happen. So, please go vote, and don’t let anyone speak your voice.
Julie Hilberg is Atascosa County Democratic Chair. She invites you to Dinner with the Democrats on Thursday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. at El Castillo Restaurant.