A public interest watchdog put one Texas County on notice for failing to disclose noncitizen registered voter records, the group says.
Shortly before the holidays, the Indiana-based Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) sent a letter to attorneys representing Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacqueline Callanen to state her office is “hereby notified that it now faces federal litigation should [it] continue to deny access to requested” records related to voters that were later removed for failing to be U.S. citizens. The correspondence noted that Bexar County officials denied the group’s request to personally inspect or duplicate records on the matter in a letter sent on December 14.
The PILF shared its original request dated December 1, 2017, with Breitbart Texas. In that document, the group sought a variety of records in the hopes of determining how many non-U.S. citizens managed to join the local voter registry; the duration of time until they were discovered; and how they came into contact with the voter registration system in the first place. Also requested was any evidence or indication that illegally registered individuals were actually forwarded to proper law enforcement.
On December 14, the PILF received a curt letter from the office of Nicholas “Nico” LaHood, Bexar County District Attorney. Officials declared that under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the same law that PILF cited to seek access to the information, the County was not necessarily subject to such responsibility requiring transparency and access to records. Additionally, the Bexar County D.A.’s office stated that if any person on behalf of the PILF appeared to inspect the requested Bexar County Elections office records, they will be not be granted access beyond the receptionist.
In 2016, San Antonio news media questioned LaHood’s judgment when he used his position as a political figure to voice personal opinions.
“I’m Nico LaHood. I’m the criminal district attorney in San Antonio, Texas. I’m here to tell you that vaccines can and do cause autism,” he commented in a Vaxxed interview. Breitbart Texas reported that the county’s top prosecutor blamed his son’s autism on infant inoculations in a project from Andrew Wakefield, the discredited British doctor who faked an “elaborate fraud” to link the Mumps, Measles, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.
J. Christian Adams, the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s president, said in a statement to Breitbart Texas that Bexar County is making “a terrible mistake” and is reversing itself on “years of compliance with similar requests.” Adams, also a member of President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, suggests that local officers may “have something embarrassing to hide.” The PILF resolves to take Bexar County to federal court if it fails to reverse course.
Despite years of compliance, Bexar County, TX is now concealing noncitizen voting records under federal law. If they do not reverse course soon, we’re going to court.https://t.co/bZtJdFRG9z#NVRA #VoterFraud #VotingRights
— PublicInterestLegal (@PILFoundation) January 3, 2018
At issue in this transparency fight is inspection rights under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), commonly referred to as “Motor Voter.” In it, the PILF argues there exists a freedom of information right “on steroids” that is specific to reviewing voter records pertaining to state and local governments’ efforts to keep them accurate. While Bexar County says that only the state capital, Austin, is bound by such disclosure burdens, the PILF contends the office has “certain obligations” under the law as well. The NVRA generally gives 90 days for a jurisdiction to cure a violation advanced by a private party before a lawsuit can be filed.
The NVRA made it easier for Americans to vote in federal elections by allowing citizens to register by mail, in person, or when getting or renewing a driver’s license. The NVRA requires, though, that states keep accurate and current voter registration lists for federal elections and provide notification of all applicants regardless of whether or not the their applications were accepted or rejected. States must also designate “other offices” as voter registration offices. Locations may include state or local government offices (i.e., public libraries, public schools, state universities and community colleges). The Act even applies to offices “not otherwise covered” including nongovernmental and the federal government.
The PILF explains that inquiries like the one reportedly stalled in Bexar County are used to better total the number of noncitizens registered to vote across the country. The organization boasts already finding thousands of similar cases in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey in recent years. The Hill Country metro area is part of a new Texas-focused study going into 2018.
The organization currently has federal litigation pending in the Southern District of Texas against Starr County. There, they allege the Rio Grande Valley locale has more registered voters than resident adult citizens. The case was originally filed in March 2016.
According to the correspondence in Bexar County, the parties have until March 2018 to resolve the matter before a lawsuit is filed.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.