Houston – Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is speaking out against Harris County Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett’s (D-Houston) claim, as stated in the Washington Times, that she is “…under no obligation to remove non-citizens from her voter rolls…”. This is part of a legal challenge brought by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) which asked to review the records of people who registered to vote in Harris County and then later self-identified that they were not American citizens. Rather than turn the records over, as other Texas counties have done, Tax Assessor Bennett is spending taxpayer money, with County Attorney Vince Ryan’s (D-Houston) office, and ignoring federal law which allows the public access to this information.
“This is a preposterously bad, civically dangerous public policy shift,” said Senator Bettencourt. “This really strikes at the fabric of the integrity of the whole election process. The fact is that non-citizens simply cannot vote in our elections. We now have two Harris County elected officials (County Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett and County Attorney Vince Ryan) spending taxpayer money to argue in Federal court that non-citizens should be allowed to stay on the voter registration roll. That is so wrong.”
As a former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Senator Bettencourt saw first-hand the need to maintain a current voter registration roll with integrity. When he first took office in 1998 he discovered roughly 50,000 deceased or felon registrations on the voter roll in Harris County that should have been removed. Over 500 had voted. In one case an incarcerated felon in Huntsville was allegedly voting in person, and in another instance someone who had been dead for almost 30 years had voted in three consecutive federal elections.
Senator Bettencourt believes that the federal law is clear on this issue and these public records should be made available; however, as a solution within Texas law, he filed Senate Bill 1230 in the 85th Legislative session. This bill would have mandated that under Texas law those people who self-identify on a jury summons that they are not American citizens would be removed from the voter registration roll, unless they could show that they filled out the form in error and are actually a citizen. Senator Bettencourt will refile an updated version of it to reflect court records of purposeful non-compliance in the upcoming 86th Legislative session, and a recognition of the obvious that Harris County was doing it right for over 15 years prior to this bad public policy shift.
“This shouldn’t be happening in Harris County, I don’t believe it can happen under federal law, and it won’t be allowed to happen under Texas law once the Legislature gets back to the next session and passes this bedrock legislation that non-citizens cannot be on the voter roll,” concluded Senator Bettencourt.
Senator Bettencourt is the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Government Reform as well as the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform. He also serves on the Senate Finance Committee, as well as the Education and Higher Education Committees. He also is Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee. A video highlighting this issue can be found at: www.Facebook.com/TXSenate7.