After two years of hiding public voter data, the state’s biggest county will finally disclose records of foreigners illegally voting in Texas elections, ending a court battle initiated by an election integrity group.
This week, Harris County settled a lawsuit brought against its top voter registration official and agreed to release all records of noncitizen voters requested by Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm that specializes in fighting to enforce federal voter roll maintenance laws.
The settlement is a win for clean elections and transparency.
“Our election systems must be transparent,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said in a statement:
“Foreigners are registering and voting in the United States. Election officials must be transparent and follow federal disclosure laws if we are ever to understand the extent of the problem. This settlement is the best possible outcome for clean elections in Texas.”
PILF sued Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Ann Bennett in 2018, after Bennett’s office refused access to records of registered voters identified as noncitizens, as well as actions taken by the county regarding those registrations.
The records are public under a transparency provision of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), also known as the “Motor Voter” law.
Harris County has over 2.3 million registered voters—more than any other county in Texas and 15 percent of all voters in the state. PILF wanted to know how many of those voters are ineligible noncitizens and, more importantly, how the foreigners were getting onto the county’s voter rolls.
Registering to vote requires no documentation to verify citizenship—applicants merely check a box affirming they’re U.S. citizens. It’s a violation of both federal and state law for noncitizens to vote or register to vote.
“The Foundation will now be able to catalog and share with key leaders the systemic problems that allow foreigners onto the voter rolls,” Adams added. “Research like this bolsters the interests of all coming into contact with the Motor Voter system—no matter where they were born.”
Adams formerly prosecuted federal voting rights cases as a U.S. attorney in the Justice Department’s Voting Section and served on President Trump’s election integrity commission. His PILF team is currently litigating NVRA cases in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maine, Maryland, and North Carolina. They’ve also requested data on noncitizens added to Illinois’ voter rolls by the DMV’s automatic voter registration system.
In Texas, other counties complied with PILF’s requests for noncitizen voter data.
Bennett instead spent taxpayers’ money on a losing effort to hide similar records, following the advice of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. They tried to have the case dismissed last year, but a judge denied their attempts to avoid federal transparency requirements.
Both Bennett and Ryan drew Democrat primary challengers in their re-election bids this year. Ryan lost his primary; Bennett defeated two opponents and will face Republican Chris Daniel in November.