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Civil rights and Latino groups are blasting the Trump administration following revelations that the voter fraud commission the president formed last year asked the state of Texas to flag Hispanic last names in voter records requested by the panel.
“This causes concern among Latino voters,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino legal civil rights organization.
When the commission, now dismantled, originally requested Texas' voter records, it said it didn’t have a use for the Hispanic surname data. "Then, they went ahead and asked for it," Perales said.
A month after the commission’s data request, a Texas district judge blocked Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos from handing the state's voter records over to the commission.
News of the commission's request was first reported by the Washington Post. President Donald Trump shut down his commission in early January.
After he was elected, Trump created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate voter fraud. He had alleged several times that millions of illegal votes had been cast, costing him the popular vote. His aides and staff had suggested that the ballots were cast by non-citizens, but no evidence has been provided to back allegations of widespread voting fraud in the 2016 presidential race.
As part of its investigation, the Trump-formed commission requested detailed voter registration data from every state.
Newly released documents show that the commission took an extra step when it asked for Texas’ data last September. The members requested “Hispanic surname flag notation," which provides records with such voters identified.
“Parties and advocacy groups often request this data and they use it for campaign strategy and voter outreach, but what’s awkward is that a federal entity is doing it,” said Manny Garcia, Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director.
“This is an attempt to violate (voters') rights,” Garcia said. “What we’re happy about is that many people said ‘it’s wrong’ and as a result, this commission has fallen apart.”
Before disappearing, the commission faced multiple lawsuits and opposition from different states around the country.
MALDEF is among those that challenged the commission’s request with a lawsuit last year. Its argument: “The president used a lot of racial slurs against Latinos during his campaign and we believe that his commission might be biased,” Perales said.
Texas has a long history of disenfranchising black and Latino voters. More recently, it implemented one of the nation's harshest voter ID laws and rearranged state district maps in a way that Texas lower courts ruled was “discriminatory at its heart.”
Although the commission has been dismantled, MALDEF’s lawsuit still is pending. Perales said MALDEF wants to know what the commission will do with data it did obtain.
According to the White House, the data collected will not be shared with the Department of Homeland Security or any other government agency. Officials have not been clear whether part of the information gathered had previously been shared with others aside the former members of the commission.