Settlement reached in Harris County voter registration lawsuit

You may recall the lawsuit that was filed back in December against Paul Bettencourt and the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office over allegations that thousands of voter registration applications were rejected for frivolous reasons. That lawsuit has now been settled.

Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, said the agreement will ensure the registrar’s office does not exceed the seven days state election law allows it to process a voter registration application or send the applicant a letter explaining why he or she was not registered.

“The bottom line is this resolution should make the voter registration process more efficient, fairer and easier for qualified citizens wanting to register to vote,“ Birnberg said. “It should ensure more of them will be accepted and be processed in time to be able to vote.”

Birnberg said the settlement — reached after mediation between party officials, the registrar’s office and the county attorney’s office — will eliminate the technical challenges the local office made to applications for voter credentials.

The Quorum Report has more details:

The plaintiffs had been seeking to review the 70,000 rejected voter registration applications in the belief that hyper-technicalities had been used to systematically disenfranchise certain classes of eligible voters. Harris County had rejected more than 30 times the number of voter registrations as had Dallas County in the same period.

The settlement is being formalized tonight but Special Assistant County Attorney John Odom told QR that the plaintiffs dropped their efforts to review historical documents for improprieties in exchange for enumerated procedures that prevented future voter registration rejections based on the issues about which Democrats had complained.

In addition, the settlement prohibits county election officials from moonlighting in political businesses. The former #2 voter registration official Ed Johnson was suspected by Democrats of both improperly rejecting applications and using information obtained in his official position for his political consulting partnership with state Rep. Dwayne Bohac.

Works for me. I would have liked to pursue that historic review, but what was gotten in trade for it seems like a good deal. If it helps prevent what happened before from happening again, it’s well worth it.

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