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Harris County voter registration lawsuit settled

For now, at least. Something tells me we have not heard the last of this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Should not be that hard to get one of these

Harris County officials and the Democratic Party have settled an ongoing legal dispute over denial rates of new voter registration applications – at least for now – though an attorney for party officials say they remain concerned that more voters appear to get rejected here than in other large counties nationwide.

Harris County Tax Assessor Collector Don Sumners said Wednesday via email that his office has agreed to provide Democrats with a database and specific documentation about how 1,250 registration applications were denied, according to the terms reached in talks last week. The agreement spells out that the office can charge no more than $1,500 for providing the information.

Sumners argued that Friday’s mediation was unnecessary.

“They could have received the data without causing the county to spend a lot of taxpayers’ money on attorneys, not to mention expending the time of my employees,” he said in an email to the Chronicle.

But Chad Dunn, an attorney for Democrats, argued Sumners’ office repeatedly obstructed requests for voter registration data both from the party and from a nonprofit group.

“I’m disappointed that it takes a federal lawsuit to get information out of our tax office. For four months we’ve been seeking information about denials,” he said. “By every objective measure Don Sumners’ office is the worst performing voter registration department of any major county in America whether you look at total number of applications rejected or a completely flat line voter roll.”

The story notes that other large counties reject fewer voter registration applications than Harris does, and that Harris County has seen no growth in voter registrations over the past decade despite explosive population growth. As a data point, here are the registered voter tallies given by the County Clerk on Election Day for even-year election days going back to 2002:

2002 – 1,875,777

2004 – 1,876,296

2006 – 1,902,222

2008 – 1,892,656

2010 – 1,917,534

The story says “Harris County’s voter registration is about 1.88 million – a number that has remained relatively flat for six years.” As you can see, it’s been flat for longer than that. You tell me why that is the case.

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  1. Mainstream says:

    One possible reason that population of Harris County could increase while voter registration stays fairly constant would be if much of the new population is non-citizens ineligible to register to vote. There is some anecdotal evidence that many black citizens are leaving Harris County for Fort Bend and Brazoria, and that many white citizens are moving up into Montgomery, and suburban counties. If the replacement population is largely Hispanic, or even Asian, and if new Hispanics and Asians are on average 50% non-citizens, a flat voter registration level would not be a surprise. I have not checked the most recent data, but in 1990 about 42% of all Hispanics in Harris County were not US Citizens, and nearly 60% of Asians were not.

  2. I’m sure there’s been plenty of growth in the non-citizen population, but I have a hard time believing that it’s essentially all of the growth in Harris County’s population. The Tax Assessor has aggressively purged the rolls for years, and with a large population of apartment dwellers, that means a lot of effort has to go into re-registering people. It’s a matter or priorities, and the Tax Assessor, from Bettencourt to Vasquez to Sumners, has never prioritized getting people registered.

  3. Ross says:

    It’s not the job of the Registrar to pursue registration. That’s up to each individual voter. It is the job of the Registrar to purge the rolls as rapidly as possible of voters who have moved, have died, have become unqualified, etc. It’ not hard to stay registered if you care at all about your government. If you don’t care, and aren’t informed as a voter, stay home on election day, or just don’t register.

  4. Mainstream says:

    It is not just citizenship issues. From Greg’s Opinion I found the figure 2,315,362 for the 2010 estimate of citizens of voting age in Harris County. From a federal lawsuit pleading I found a figure for 2000 of 1,964,970. So even noting that the 2000 data was collected differently from the 2010 data, we are looking at a 18% increase in adult citizens eligible to register. While I would not doubt that voter rolls countywide are 20% overinflated with bad registrations, even I find it hard to imagine that removal of these names balanced out the new registrations resulting from population growth. Is it possible that we are seeing a generational effect: low levels of registration by the young, increasingly Hispanic population at the same time as a large number of deaths of the mostly Anglo WW2 generation who registered and voted religiously?

    I know I have reported 50 or so bad registrations as I have canvassed my own precinct for candidates, but that is less than 2% of registrations.

    Moreover, I just checked the data and my precinct had 2784 registered in 2002 and 3324 registered in 2011, but again, we have new apartments and Perry homes filling in formerly empty areas, so a direct comparison is not possible. And I conduct regular voter registration drives every election cycle with the help of like-minded neighbors.