AUSTIN -- Aurelia Tello is not a U.S. citizen, yet the Austin resident was somehow registered to vote last year. She even got a voter registration card in the mail.
"Well, when I saw that, I ask myself, ‘Why do I have this?" said Tello, a Mexican citizen who has been in the U.S. legally for more than 15 years.
The KVUE Defenders tracked down another non-citizen that was registered to vote in Travis County. The woman, originally from Spain, didn’t want to be interviewed or identified for the story. She said , the registration was all a big mistake. "Well, it was in a way because I didn't know," she explained.
A Defender's investigation uncovered, they are two of at least 2,781 Texas voters removed from the rolls by the Texas Secretary of State’s office since 2008, after identifying themselves as non-citizens on jury excusal forms.
While the Defenders tracked down some who admitted they voted in prior elections, the state will not release all of their voting histories unless the Texas Attorney General allows it. KVUE has requested that information and is waiting for the attorney general’s opinion.
“The law is clear we cannot do anything else with that list. We can’t generate any other information. So, we’re seeking an opinion from the attorney general’s office to see if we can legally go back and verify voting history,” said Richard Parsons, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
It is a felony offense to intentionally lie on your voter registration application.
Peggy Venable, with Americans for Prosperity, believes that's a big concern."We think it is important that these records be checked and re-checked. Let's face it. A number of elections have been determined by just a handful of votes," Venable said.
LBJ won his U.S. senate seat by just 87 votes in 1948. Travis County Democrat Donna Howard beat Republican Dan Neil for a state house seat by a little more than a dozen votes in 2010.
So, how did it happen? Several of the former voters we tracked down registered with the Texas Department of Public Safety while getting their drivers license. Prior to 2008, DPS didn't ask for proof of citizenship. It does now.
Texans only renew their driver licenses about once every six years, so it's likely more non-citizens remain registered.
“It's possible they didn't understand that that meant a voter registration application. I can just presume. I do not know," said Dee Lopez, Travis County’s voter registration director.
Lopez said voters don’t need to show proof of citizenship when applying to vote anywhere.
"When you apply, you do not need to provide any proof of anything. You need to complete the application in its entirety, sign it and date it. The Secretary of State then validates the data we provide them," Lopez said.
To help improve that validation process, the Texas Secretary of State's office wants access to a Homeland Security database it claims can help identify more non-citizens from the voter rolls.
So far, the federal government has only given Florida access to that database.
Parsons said that database would be just another toll to weed out potential non-citizens from the rolls, “So, when it became clear that the Department of Homeland Security database would be available to the states, we thought it was I was important to gain access to that,” Parsons said.
Venable thinks Texas should also gain access to that database, "Every vote matters. Every legal voter deserves to know that their vote is not offset by someone who is voting illegally," Venable said.
Lopez questions even whether the Homeland Security database would help. She said the federal government identifies non-citizens with a special identification number. "We don't collect that information, and from what I have read, it doesn't appear to be beneficial to county voter registrars," said Lopez.
Tello never voted and doesn't remember registering to vote. She knows there's a process to that privilege and it starts with citizenship. “I not do it, because it’s not right,” said Tello.
Of the dozen non-citizens the KVUE Defenders tracked down in Travis County who were removed from the rolls, they said they never intentionally registered to vote.
All say it was either by accident or they had no clue they were even once registered until KVUE contacted them.