Integrity of Harris County Voter Roll Continues To Be At Risk

HOUSTON – Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) today presented an Opinion by the Texas Secretary of State, the first one released in five years, and sent a letter calling on the Harris County Registrar to follow the law as outlined by the highest election official in the state. The Opinion is regarding a voter challenge by Senate District 7 resident Alan Vera and the procedural mistakes made by Harris County Voter Registrar Ann Harris Bennett (D-Houston) and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s (D-Houston) office.  Mr. Vera’s challenge showed multiple examples of voter registrations at post office boxes, or commercial property addresses, which opens up the voter roll to fraud with people registered and voting in areas in which they do not live.

“The integrity of the voter roll is paramount to the entire electoral process,” said Senator Bettencourt. “My constituent, Mr. Vera, asked me to request this opinion and I agreed because the law is clear and his voter challenge should not have been thrown out.”

The challenge covered over 4,000 voter registrations as not meeting the residency requirements as stated in Section 1.015 of the Texas Election Code.  Following the filing of the challenge, Harris County Voter Registrar, Ann Harris Bennett, erroneously put over 1,000 voters on the suspense list, creating serious confusion before the August Harris County Bond Election.  The County Attorney’s Office advised the challenge was not valid as it lacked “personal knowledge” that the registrations were inaccurate and ended the challenge.

The voter registration residency challenge that I filed should have activated a very simple, administrative process within the registrar’s system as clearly laid out in the Texas Election Code,” said Alan Vera. “Instead, the process spelled out in the law was mishandled by the voter registrar and was further bungled by the Harris County Attorney.  That is why I went to my State Senator to ask for help.”

The opinion from the Texas Secretary of State stated that “personal knowledge” could include “…knowing from experience and observation that those (voter registration) addresses are commercial properties or other properties that are not generally residences…” Given the opinion from the Secretary of State, Mr. Vera’s challenge does meet the requirement of “personal knowledge” as required by the election code.

“Having people registered in bulk where they do not live opens up the opportunity for a candidate or party to pack a targeted district,” added Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. “The voter roll should represent where people actually live.”

 Most recently, as reported by Houston area media, 250+ residents in the City of Baytown could be given the wrong ballots in the November election as Ms. Bennett failed to update boundary lines to include recently annexed areas. Additionally, unanswered questions continue to remain about her court fight, spending taxpayer money, regarding her refusal to remove non-citizens from the voter roll. ( “Public confidence in the voter roll can only be restored by Voter Registrar Bennett properly following the law,” concluded Senator Bettencourt.