Houston, We Have A Voter Registration Problem

by Amaury Nora

As we approach this historic election, I have to applaud local CBS affiliate KHOU’s 11 News investigative reporter Mark Greenblatt for his excellent work in tackling the controversial issue of voter suppression here in Harris County. As Latinos/as, African Americans, and the youth vote in unprecedented numbers, their increasing engagement in the democratic process will help sustain our democracy.

In a two part investigative report, Greenblatt exposes the voter suppression tactics – which tend to be passed off as “simple mistakes” or “human error” – being used to disenfranchise thousands of voters their right to vote in Harris County. These tactics are being carried out by Republican elected Paul Bettencourt, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar.

It seems Bettencourt, has a nasty habit of excluding certain voters out of the voter rolls and is willing to lie to the Texas Legislature to make his case. Prior to this investigative report, the state office of the League of Women Voters and elections expert Lauri Van Hoose already noted that Harris County had “serious and widespread voter registration problem.”

Here are some of the details from part one of Mark Greenblatt’s report.

Van Hoose said that in Harris County there are “a high number of people being rejected due to inconsistent practices of reviewing applications.”

Van Hoose knows this because she reviewed registration records from the tax assessor’s office.

Greenblatt: “These aren’t just numbers you’re coming up with on your own?”

Van Hoose: “Right.”

Greenblatt: “These are numbers based off his information?”

Van Hoose: “Right.”

Van Hoose’s conclusion is that the problem is bigger than we think.

“This is not one or two registrations,” she said. “This is thousands of registrations.”

But on top of it, she found the county was in no rush to tell would-be voters they were ‘no good.’
Van Hoose passed her findings onto the non-partisan statewide League of Women Voters.

“Some people who tried to do this in July are just now hearing that their form is being rejected, and now its too late,” state board member Mary Finch said. She adds, “Putting roadblocks up in front of people, it’s not good”

Ultimately, Finch has come up with a conclusion for the voting troubles in Harris County.

“The problem is competence or actual election fraud,” said Finch.

As KHOU attempted to get to the bottom of this, it is obvious Bettencourt was hoping to spin this as human error, and that some people were unintentionally left off the voter rolls. While it is true honest mistakes do occur, given the number of people registering in the 3rd largest county in the US, however, it appears Houston/Harris County is not the only one experiencing this problem, but there is mounting evidence demonstrating similar patterns occurring throughout the US.

Not only was Bettencount’s demeanor during his interview a dead give, but the run around Mark Greenblatt received from the Director of Voter Registration & Gov. Liaison, George Hammerlein, in his attempt to get certain information was also telling. In one of the email exchange between Greenblatt and Hammerlein, Greenblatt had to remind Hammerlein in caps that they obligated to release “ALL DOCUMENTS AND DATA” he had requested under the Texas Public Information Act.

Part one of the report, do note Paul Bettencourt’s demeanor as he is being pressed to explain these “mistakes.” Also notice how Bettencourt easily placed blame on a temporary employee who is no longer working there.

Houston Voter Registration Problems Part 1

The problem I have with Bettencourt’s statement, I used to work for the county, believe me, and anybody who has worked for Harris County knows there is a chain of command employees have to follow before anything is sent from the office. There is no way a temporary employee could have sent a rejection letter without additional eyes looking over their work, especially if the letter was stamped with his signature to make the letter official. If so, one must wonder of the inefficiency of Bettencourt’s office and as residents of Harris County, we should demand that our Commissioner Court to step in and intervene.

In part two, Mark Greenblatt exposes the false information Paul Bettencourt gave to the Texas House Elections Committee in the beginning of the year.

Bettencourt’s statement to the 11 News Defenders was similar to one he made nearly a year ago. It was all a part of his testimony before the House Elections Committee in January of 2008.

“We have had a history of illegal voting as well as documented fraud cases in Harris County,” he said then. “What I’m providing to you are 381 absolutely verified and documented cases.”

The hearing was part of a push to strengthen laws that could prohibit voter fraud laws.

“The 381 cases that we have provided to you with this documentation are we believe are ironclad,” he testified.

It turns out those 381 “ironclad” cases were not so ironclad after all. After his testimony, Representative Rafael Anchia discovered that out of Bettencourt’s “381 ironclad cases” only 121 are still under investigation. Adding insult to injury, only one was charged in Harris County in the past eight years.

It gets worst too, it also seems Bettencourt was adding fuel to fire xenophobic fire. He also claimed his office found 315 non-citizens trying to commit voter fraud. However, it turns out that 34 actually had openly disclosed they were not a US citizen, yet, the “County registrar gave those individuals voter cards.” One has to wonder if this was a set up, so the GOP can say “Gotcha!” and drag them out into the public square as proof that “illegals” are trying to commit voter fraud. From part two of the series:

In addition, there were also reportedly 22 non-citizens who Bettencourt testified were able to register and actually vote. But Anchia and his staff found that five of those 22 were actually U.S. citizens. Another member of the 22 had also truthfully disclosed his status as a non-Citizen, and yet Harris County gave him a voter card anyways.

It is funny when they are caught red handed in their bombastic accusation. This was very evident in the interview when Paul Bettencourt lost it and was forced to catch himself and compose himself.

Houston Voter Registration Problems Part 2

Oh what a tangled web they weave when the GOP practice to deceive.

Truth be told, I am concern when elected officials can easily make alarmist statement such a Bettencourt while nobody holds them accountable for these false claims. If we stand idly by while the right to vote is denied to some “other,” it is our own right that is lost. In the latest poll, Rasmussen found that 50% of Texans surveyed believe voter fraud will occur, but it comes to voter suppression, only 31% of Texans surveyed believe voters will be disenfranchised on election day.

While I applaud Mark Greenblatt for a great job exposing what is taking place in the office of our GOP elected Tax Assessor-Collector, however, this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I really hope he does a follow up because I have already encountered a person who was questioned during early voting. They were fortunate and this person was allowed to vote. But will the next person be so lucky?

Originally posted at Para Justicia y Libertad

5 replies »

  1. E-mail his office and ask him why he is caging votes. Lets flood his office with e-mail, and maybe the crooks in Harris county will get the message.

  2. Now that is an idea.!

    The Houston Chronicle just reported that Obama has a 7 pt lead in Harris County. Given that, if Houston suddenly turned red, it should raise some eyebrows.

  3. My younger sister went with me and my family to early vote at our local precinct in the DFW area last Monday (first day of early voting in Texas), and she was forced to use a provisional ballot. They alluded to some sort of middle name or address related issue, but wouldn’t provide us with specifics. So after about an hour of them fumbling around with the computer system and figuring out how to use a provisional ballot, she “voted”. All the while, the line, which took us about 20 minutes, grew to what I would guess was an hour and a half. This took 3 of the 7 polling workers off the floor to figure out, and as a result slowed down the check in process dramatically. They had two stations going, and one was shut down while they dealt with my sister. I bring this up because it’s win/win for anyone that would be trying to deliberately suppress voter turnout. First my sister’s ballot is set aside in the provisional stack, which can later be discredited if they are able to dig up some technicality, and second the line may force some voters to leave.

    If they can’t win fair, they’ll do it dishonestly.

    This was to be her first time voting, and she was in tears when she left the polling station. If it were me, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have caused a serious scene.

  4. As soon as I leased a house in Bellaire – days before my moving van delivered my furniture – I submitted my first Harris County voter registration application by mail. The March 4 primary was on the horizon, and I wanted to vote. In February, the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office, which handles voter registration, sent me a good news-bad news letter: The bad news was the registrar didn’t have sufficient information to register me. The good news was if I submitted a new application within 10 days I could still vote in the primary.

    Surprisingly, the letter did not explain that I had failed to check a box certifying that I did not have a Texas driver’s license. If it had, my voting blues would have ended right there. The Harris County process lets voters guess what information is missing. My packet of information included my full Social Security number; a local utility bill offering proof of my Texas residence and a Pennsylvania driver’s license – a reflection of my strong desire to vote in a primary featuring a woman and African American as presidential contenders.

    Weeks passed, yet not my voter registration certificate. A week before the election, a very nice clerk at the Tax Assessor’s office informed me that the office had “no record” of receiving my follow-up correspondence, which contained, out of desperation, the keys to unlocking my financial identity. She tried to comfort me by telling me the letter was probably sitting on somebody’s desk, waiting to be opened. It was not. It had disappeared, leaving my heart-broken. For the first time since I became a registered voter, I missed casting a ballot in a presidential primary.

    Now wary of registrations by mail, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Drivers License Centers seemed the better way to go. There was more than one way to reach my destination. But before I could apply, I had to get a copy of my Social Security card, a process that took weeks. It was July before I could go to the driver’s license center and submit my third voter registration application. A month later, an attorney who with the League of Women Voters urged me to check with the registrar to make sure everything was OK. So I made another phone call to another clerk. Imagine my dismay when she said the only voter registration record the office currently had on file for me was my February, 2008 registration, which was incomplete.

    On September 2, I printed a copy of the voter registration form off the Internet. filled it out at home, made a copy so I could prove it was correct, and hand-delivered it to the assessor’s office. A few days later, my voter registration certificate appeared online with August 27 as the effective date. A few weeks later, a second voter registration certificate (with the same registration number as the first) arrived in the mail. It stated I was registered to vote as of : Oct. 2. Attorneys now tell me the dual dates and dual cards could pose a problem for me on Election Day. (The state database has August 27 as my registration date while the county database has Oct. 2.) This year, for the first time, I’ll go to the polls with the phone number of an attorney in my pocket.

    When I read the torrent of stories regarding duplicate voter registrations, fraud does not pop into my mind, as it does with most folks. My experience provides me with a filter that is less trusting and far more skeptical. How many phone calls did those voters make to their registrar’s office before they filled out additional forms? (The clerks told me I wasn’t registered to vote three days after my registration card was posted in the online database.) How many voters were ADVISED to fill out duplicate applications, as I was? How many people registering to vote this year got tangled in a web of partisan politics?

    My great fear is that many first time voters will show up at the polls on November 4, only to find their names are not on the official rolls. Perhaps they overlooked a small box or left a line blank. Perhaps nobody told them how to fix the mistake, or even that the card needed to be changed. These dramatic encounters are likely to make the wait longer for everyone, and the mood tense. The will of the people may not decide the closest elections. Rather, these decisions may be made by the folks with the sheer will to overcome the registration obstacles.

  5. I googled voter registration problems and came here. Just found out that I was denied because my application was incomplete. They are saying my name was submitted as middle name as last, last name as first and first name as middle. Well I have a copy that I printed on my computer and all of my information was submitted correctly. I even submitted my drivers license when I turned in my printed application in person. Looks like someone did a name shuffle. Now I’m sorry that I stated that I’m a democrat on the form. I registered at Bettencourts office in Spring.I may not be able to vote Tuesday and I’m mad as hell.