Although an official in the most populous county in Texas acknowledged three years ago that thousands of noncitizens were registered to vote, Harris County has resisted repeated requests by a voter-integrity organization for documents to quantify the problem.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, founded by former Department of Justice lawyer J. Christian Adams, has used a provision of the 1993 motor-voter law to document noncitizen voting in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and other jurisdictions. The group said Monday it plans to sue Texas’ Harris County if officials do not comply.
“Harris County is hiding public information about the extent of noncitizen registration and voting,” Adams said in a statement. “Harris County is no stranger to the issue of noncitizen voter registration.
“Evidence and testimony about the matter have been provided to the Texas Legislature and U.S. Supreme Court. This isn’t a question about the existence of alien voting — but the scale. We will go to federal court if we must to obtain these public records.”
Harris County, with a population of almost 4.6 million people and home to Houston, declined the foundation’s request to inspect records related to registered voters removed from the rolls after it came to light that they are not citizens.
Adams cited the National Voter Registration Act’s Section 8, which gives individual citizens the right to obtain 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.”
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the group, told LifeZette that other Texas counties have cooperated with requests for records. He said the organization has found 600 noncitizens on the rolls in El Paso County alone.
But Churchwell said Harris County officials have cited state law and asked the Texas attorney general’s office for a legal opinion about whether it is obligated to turn over the records.
“We never even approached them under state law,” he said.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation has asked for all records related to voters since 2006 who asked to be removed from the rolls because they were not citizens or whose citizenship status came to light for some other reason.
Churchwell said the organization also has sought records of Harris County residents who have been excused from jury duty after claiming they are not citizens. He said the group could then cross-reference that list with the list of registered voters to see if any noncitizens are on the rolls.
This is not the first time the Public Interest Legal Foundation has highlighted questionable practices by Harris County voting officials. In 2015, the group submitted a friend of the court brief in a Supreme Court case detailing 13 cases in which registered voters either admitted they were not citizens or refused to answer a question about their citizenship status but obtained voter registration cards anyway.
Mike Sullivan, who was the Harris County tax assessor-collector, testified before the Texas Legislature in May 2015 against a bill that would have established online voter registration.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation supported the bill because it had a strong voter identification component. But Sullivan testified that he sent a list of improperly registered voters each month to the Harris County district attorney’s office. He testified that those names numbered in the “low hundreds” each month, according to a transcript of the hearing.
“So, doing the math, it would be low thousands, annually?” asked state Rep. Dade Phelan. Smith answered in the affirmative.
But determining just how many thousands is not possible without a thorough review of the records, Churchwell said.
Over the past two years, the Public Interest Legal Foundation has demonstrated that noncitizen voting is more than simply a theoretical concern in a number of states:
- In October 2016, the organization published a report showing that noncitizens were registered to vote in Philadelphia and that at least half had actually cast ballots.
- In May 2017, the group found 5,556 noncitizens who had been kicked off the rolls in Virginia as noncitizens since 2011, with roughly a third casting ballots.
- In September of last year, the group found 1,067 noncitizens in New Jersey.
- Last month, the group put Pennsylvania on notice for failing to produce documents under the motor-voter law.