Harris County faces lawsuit for concealing voter registration maintenance records

A lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court against the Harris County Voter Registrar. The Public Interest Legal Foundation is claiming Ann Harris Bennett’s Office is refusing to make voter registration maintenance records available for inspection under federal law.

The legal group says they filed the lawsuit after the Harris County Voter Registrar’s Office declined to show documentation of noncitizens who have registered to vote, dead people who are still registered to vote, and people who have moved but are still registered in Harris County.

“The public are entitled to publicly inspect election officials’ records relating to voter registration activities, and that’s a good thing,” said attorney Andy Taylor who wrote the lawsuit.

Each county should have a paper trail of the maintenance work they’ve done to ensure lists of registered voters are current and compliant with the law, but so far Harris County is declining to make that information public, so the legal group is suing them for violation of federal law.

“When you’re counting votes everybody has a vested interest in making sure that the election count and outcome is correct, otherwise democracy is turned on its ear, and that’s why we filed this lawsuit,” said Taylor.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation made the request for voter registration maintenance records in December. The request was made using the National Voter Registration Act Of 1993, a Federal law which requires states to maintain lists of eligible voters and make those lists available for public inspection upon request.

County Attorney Vince Ryan responded with a letter requesting that the Attorney General keep the records from going public, citing state law.

“Vince Ryan has blinded himself to the fact that federal law trumps state law,” said Taylor. “This isn’t a state law question.”

The Harris County Voter Registrar’s Office declined Fox 26’s request for an interview or statement Thursday.

Former Harris County Voter Registrar Mike Sullivan, who left office in 2016, did testify to the Texas House Elections Committee in 2015 that he regularly came across hundreds of noncitizens who were registered to vote. He also declined Fox 26’s request for an interview Thursday.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation is using Sullivan’s statement in its case.

“Every vote counts and matters in the outcome of these elections, and so we can’t turn a blind eye to this situation and say, ‘Ah it really doesn’t matter,’” said Taylor. “It matters a lot.”

The legal group has requested voter registration maintenance records from other Texas counties. Hidalgo County turned over those documents—no problem. They included a stack of documents showing people who registered to vote then admitted to not being citizens when called on for jury duty.  The documentation shows one man, Jose Bravo, voted nine times between 2008 and 2013, then was released from jury duty for not being a U.S. citizen.

The legal group says they’ll take their case to the Supreme Court if necessary to uncover similar information in Harris County.