HOUSTON — Harris County officials are pushing back on releasing the voting records of noncitizens, arguing in a recent court filing that those records should not be made public, even though federal law states they should be.
The Indianapolis-based Public Interest Legal Foundation, which investigates voter integrity issues across the county, has been fighting for months to see those records and county attorneys have consistently fought back.
“Harris County is fully committed to concealing the extent of noncitizen registration and voting,” said Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation. “Never before has this foundation seen a greater commitment to hiding public records readily available in other counties. The data in question could help identify procedural failures that place immigrants at risk of premature access to voting and convert their naturalization paths to deportation orders.”
The Harris County Voter Registrar argued on June 1 that “the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) does not require public disclosure of the category of documents the Public Interest Legal Foundation seeks.”
The NVRA protects registered voters from improper removal from the rolls and places limited requirements on states to remove ineligible voters from the rolls. Once a person is officially registered to vote, a state may only remove them from the voting list if: the person dies, changes residence, asks to be removed from the list, or becomes ineligible under state law because of criminal conviction or mental incapacity.
The law, they argued, “does not create any obligation for a state to conduct a list maintenance program to remove the names of voters who may be ineligible due to lack of citizenship.”
The Foundation called Harris County’s arguments bogus.
“Harris County’s behavior is not only unlawful, it’s callous,” Churchwell said.
Harris County is also arguing that the National Voter Registration Act is not intended to serve as a tool to investigate alleged voter fraud. County officials also said that public disclosure of these records “would disservice the public interest.”
The foundation disagrees, and adds that these types of requests in other states revealed serious defects in election integrity procedures, the foundation said.
In April 2015, the foundation filed a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a client detailing 13 cases where individuals admitted to not being citizens or refused to declare a status at all when applying for voting, yet were registered anyway.
The brief highlighted testimony from the Harris County voter registrar’s office from 2006 stating that noncitizen voting “has and will continue to occur.”
And In May 2015, the Harris County Voter Registrar testified before the Texas House Elections Committee that “thousands” of noncitizens were discovered in the voter registration system annually and were regularly handed over to the District Attorney for prosecution, according to the foundation.
The foundation began asking for records from Harris and other Texas counties in 2017.
Founded in 2012, the foundation is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to election integrity, according to its website.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.