Lawsuit: Largest Texas County Withholding Noncitizen Voting Records

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The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) filed a lawsuit Thursday against Harris County, Texas, for allegedly failing to disclose noncitizen registered voter records as required under federal law.

At issue in this case are allegations that Harris County has refused to allow PILF to inspect or be furnished with documents related to noncitizen registered voters discovered through local officials’ efforts or when these voters admitted to unlawful registration on their own. The county’s actions appear to violate inspection rights mandated under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), also known as the Motor Voter law.

“Harris County has previously admitted a problem with noncitizen registration and voting,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said in a prepared statement. “Election officials should be transparent. Our requests to inspect records will help educate lawmakers and the public alike on how noncitizens are gaining entry into the voting system; how long they remain; how they vote; and what we can do to fix the issue.”

Adams continued, “The question is not if—but how many noncitizens are participating? Harris County cannot expect to get away with avoiding its federal transparency responsibilities.”

The court documents charge Voter Registrar of Harris County, Ann Harris Bennett, with one count of NVRA violation. The complaint alleges that Bennett “repeatedly denied the Foundation’s request and brazenly ignored the federal basis” for the request. The complaint noted that Bennett stated she denied the PILF’s “access to the records under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA), a law which has utterly no bearing on the Foundation’s request or the power of the Defendant to conceal the election records.”

Breitbart Texas reported that, in January, the PILF gave final notice to Harris County officials informing them they faced “federal litigation should [they] continue to deny access to the requested records” related to noncitizens registered to vote. This followed PILF’s December 1, 2017, for voter list information from the Harris County Voter Registrar under NVRA. However, county officials denied the PILF’s request to inspect records of registrants who were later removed following official discovery or admitted to non-citizenship on January 11.

Harris County officials repeatedly refused to comply with the PILF’s request for documented noncitizen voter registration and voting information.

Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 allows individuals to request inspection or seek copies of “records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters,” the PILF noted.

An NVRA inspection allows a requestor unfettered access to documents where Texas law may set up barriers to prevent acquisition of this information, the foundation says.

The PILF has suggested that the question is not if, but how many noncitizens vote in Texas. In 2015, then-Harris Count Voter Registrar Mike Sullivan testified before the Texas House Elections Committee that “thousands” of noncitizens were discovered in the voter registration system annually. Sullivan said his office turned over that information to the county’s district attorney for prosecution.

Nine years earlier, Sullivan’s predecessor, Paul Bettencourt, now a Texas state senator, told members of the U.S. Committee on House Administration, “nearly one in four” Harris County residents were born outside of the United States and 500,000 were noncitizens. Bettencourt noted “illegal voting and registration by foreign nationals is difficult for my office to prevent without federal assistance.” The complaint notes that “alerts from [immigration authorities] that a registered voter is attempting to naturalize” served as a primary method for cleaning noncitizens from the rolls during Bettencourt’s time.

The records requested by PILF contain the individual stories of how the system is failing its citizens, and how it allows aliens to vote, asserts PILF. “We also will learn how long they existed in the registry before they were removed – and how.” PILF maintains that these records will also quantify how many noncitizens received “amnesty” for their voting records prior to obtaining U.S. citizenship.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

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