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Texas' election chief apologizes over flawed noncitizen list

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Secretary of State David Whitley, left, arrives for his confirmation hearing, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas, where he addressed the backlash surrounding Texas' efforts to find noncitizen voters on voter rolls. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas' embattled election chief has apologized over an inaccurate list of 95,000 people on the voter rolls flagged as possible non-U.S. citizens, and a Senate committee postponed a vote Thursday on his nomination — a signal his job could be in jeopardy.

Secretary of State David Whitley had previously refused to acknowledge mistakes in the three weeks since his office gave election fraud prosecutors a voter list that included tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who were wrongly flagged .

Whitley was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott but is still awaiting confirmation from the GOP-led Senate. Uproar over the botched rollout has cast rare uncertainty over whether Whitley will survive confirmation.

The voter list was released in January and suggested that of the 95,000 possible noncitizens on the Texas voter rolls, as many as 58,000 may have illegally cast ballots since 1996. President Donald Trump seized on the reports out of Texas to renew unsubstantiated claims of rampant voter fraud, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office prosecutes election fraud cases, sent a campaign fundraising email to supporters with the headline, "VOTER FRAUD ALERT."

In a letter to lawmakers sent late Wednesday, Whitley said his office "could have been communicated better" and that "more time should have been devoted" to vetting the names.

"I recognize this caused some confusion about our intentions, which were at all times aimed at maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the voter rolls," Whitley wrote. "To the extent my actions missed that mark, I apologize."

The letter was first reported by the Texas Tribune.

The apology went further than Whitley's defense during a rocky two-hour confirmation hearing last week, when he told Senate Democrats that "the data is what the data is." Days prior to the hearing, when asked by an Associated Press reporter whether his office had made mistakes, Whitley responded no.

Whitley's confirmation is in the hands of the Republican-controlled Texas Senate but he will likely need more than GOP votes. Democrats have sharply criticized Whitley but have so far not said they will try to block his nomination.

Texas officials say they matched registered voters against records of noncitizens with state IDs. But they failed to exclude scores of people who legally cast ballots only after becoming U.S. citizens.

The ACLU and other civil and minority rights groups have sued the state in an effort to stop counties from using the list to try identifying noncitizens. The first federal court hearing set for next week.

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Follow Paul j. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

Secretary of State David Whitley, left, arrives for his confirmation hearing, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas, where he addressed the backlash surrounding Texas' efforts to find noncitizen voters on voter rolls. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Secretary of State David Whitley, left, arrives for his confirmation hearing, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas, where he addressed the backlash surrounding Texas' efforts to find noncitizen voters on voter rolls. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)