Hundreds of noncitizens registered to vote in Harris County, lawsuit claims
HARRIS COUNTY - A new lawsuit against the Harris County Voter Registrar claims that noncitizens were registered to vote, even after they identified themselves as noncitizens on their voter registration applications.
The lawsuit filed Monday by the Public Interest Legal Foundation includes dozens of images of the applications as well as images from the Texas voter registration system showing each person remained registered to vote for several years before the error was identified and corrected.
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“In essence what we have here is evidence of people saying they are not U.S. citizens on voter registration records in Harris County, and yet they are becoming registered voters anyway,” said Logan Churchwell, spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent foreign nationals from being registered to vote in Harris County in the future. Churchwell says the documents were obtained through an open records request, and the registrar’s office has been sending chunks of data showing the history of voter roll maintenance in the county, including noncitizens registered as long ago as the 1990s and as recently as 2020.
The time period includes when State Senator Paul Bettencourt was the voter registrar in the early 2000s. “You’re going to have some handful of mistakes,” said Bettencourt. “That’s just the way things happen when you have people and a voter rollover 2.3 million…. If people could not fix that problem, they were either removed from that job or put on another job. You have to take it seriously.”
The documentation shows the noncitizen’s registration was usually revoked years later.
“You could see that gap in time between someone being honest and saying I’m not a U.S. citizen, but I’m filling out this form anyway, getting accepted onto the voter roll, and then some other cleanup—usually the same person again saying I should not be here,” said Churchwell. “Then they only get removed from the roll at that time.”
The data included in the lawsuit was obtained this year through an open records request filed in 2017.“Over 2017 to 2018 we requested these records,” said Churchwell. “We had to file a federal lawsuit because we were denied.”
Churchwell says the foundation is still waiting on hundreds of more documents, especially voter registration forms that were filled out during the current voter registrar Ann Harris Bennett’s term in office.
Her office did not agree to Fox 26’s interview request Monday but did say by phone they were meeting with the county attorney to review the lawsuit.
Her office later sent this statement: “The Harris County Voter Registrar successfully maintains 2.4 million Harris County voter records.
Currently, Harris County residents have until October 5, 2020 to register for this November’s Election. In response to a federal lawsuit settled earlier this year, Registrar Ann Bennett provided nearly seven years of voter records to an Indiana-based organization called the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
“After reviewing these records, the Public Interest Legal Foundation claims an average of approximately 134 applicants per year had some problem related to United States citizenship. All of these applications were caught, and there is no allegation that anyone who is not a citizen is currently registered to vote.
“Nevertheless, this out-of-state organization filed a second lawsuit to ask a state court to order the Registrar to do what she is already doing—assure the integrity of Harris County’s voter records. Tellingly, the organization demands $210,000 in attorney’s fees, despite failing to uncover any evidence that there are currently any non-citizens registered to vote. The Registrar will now take steps to respond to this new case.”
Churchwell says the apparent errors in processing applications could mean deportation for otherwise innocent immigrants who told the truth on their applications.
“Same thing if someone were to register to vote improperly at the DPS getting a driver’s license,” said Churchwell. “If the DPS wasn’t careful and gave you that voter registration form, then it’s going to cascade into the voter registration system, and it will come back to bite you in the immigration system. But you the end user—the immigrant, whomever—you’re the one that’s going to pay the price, not the people who weren’t doing their jobs correctly.”