Republican-led Harris County Voter Registration Office Admits to Voter Suppression Tactics

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The Texas Democratic Party won a major fight last Friday by forcing Leo Vasquez and the Harris County Voter Registration office to admit to using voter suppression tactics. Additionally, Rep. Scott Hochberg played a key role in unearthing the details about how the office was rejecting tens of thousands of voter registration ballots. (Read more about those details below the fold…)

TDP Chair Boyd Richie released the following statement about the settlement:

“From my first days as Chairman, the Texas Democratic Party has worked vigilantly in both the legal and legislative process to protect Texans’ right to participate fully in our democracy.  The Texas Democratic Party will monitor the current Harris County Voter Registrar’s practices with that same vigilance to make sure the terms of this agreement are carried out properly.

“It’s a shame that the Texas Democratic Party has been forced to go to court time and again to do what our state and local officials should be doing – protect the right to vote.  As a great Texas Democrat, President Lyndon B. Johnson said in 1965: ‘It is wrong–deadly wrong–to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.’”

The lawsuit settled a number of lies that Vazquez, Paul Bettencourt, and other Harris County Republicans had been pushing for months. As the Lone Star Project explains:

Earlier this year, in a hostile and dishonest op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Leo Vasquez, responded to Lone Star Project reports detailing corruption within his office by calling Texas Democratic Party legal action a ”nuisance lawsuit” with “no merit” and saying that the “partisan attacks” were led by the Lone Star Project. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 6/16/2009) However, Vasquez was forced to acknowledge in the settlement that the TDP lawsuit was based on facts that showed the Tax Assessor's office had engaged in improper behavior regarding the handling of voter registration applications and the handling of provisional ballots.

Vasquez would not have agreed to the settlement if he did not believe that there was a strong chance that he would lose the lawsuit and more corruption would be uncovered.

Here's a look at the lies Leo told — and the truth he finally admitted in the lawsuit settlement:

 Leo's Lie
 The Facts
“It is also my highest priority and the goal of the employees of the tax office to register every eligible voter in Harris County.” 24.4% of those applying to register to vote in Harris County were denied registration in time to vote in the 2008 elections. (Source: TX Secretary of State and Harris County Voter Registrar)
“These attacks are nothing more than partisan witch hunts” As part of a court settlement, Vasquez acknowledged widespread voter registration problems detailed by the Lone Star Project. Vasquez was forced to accept more than a dozen changes insisted upon by Democrats to protect the rights of Harris County voters. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 10/23/2009)
Commenting upon Ed Johnson, Vasquez said, “There is nothing illegal about this activity, and it has nothing to do with his [Johnson’s] official duties with the tax office.” While refusing to fire Johnson outright, Vasquez has acknowledged the Johnson is unfit to serve as Associate Voter Registrar and has reassigned him within the Tax Office. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 8/1/2009)
Responding to the Lone Star Project’s call to fire Ed Johnson for working as a paid Republican campaign consultant while also on the County payroll, Vasquez said, “This assertion is preposterous …” Vasquez acknowledged the obvious conflict of interest and, as part of the legal settlement, was forced to initiate a policy prohibiting outside work as a partisan political consultant. (Source: Vasquez Settlement, 10/23/2009)

I think everyone should congratulate the Texas Democratic Party for taking the lead on work that should have been done by Harris County elected officials — but was not, for obviously corrupt reasons.

More on the history of this story below the fold…

Charles Kuffner (Off the Kuff) has tracked Republican corruption in Harris County for years. I spent some time looking through his archives, and wanted to remind everyone of some of the other more recent scandals to come out of Republican offices in Harris County — most of which, ironically, have been broken not by KHOU, not by the Houston Chronicle, , and not by any local news organizations who are supposed to be doing their job on all of this — but by the Lone Star Project (whose chart on the right is from one of their reports):

Harris County Republicans are corrupt and will abuse their power for their own corrupt purposes at every possible turn.

About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.

5 Comments

    • Pointless
      The TDP/HCDP lawsuit included other plaintiffs who were used for standing purposes but cut out in the mediation/settlement process.

  1. A Pig In a Poke
    The settlement is cosmetic and unenforceable .

    The voter roll, active + suspended registrations, in Harris County are down almost 100,000 since this time last year. Pretty much as soon as the ink was dry on this settlement another 100,000 voters were suspended by the Harris County Tax Office.

    Provisions of the agreement, for instance Sec 8(g), are already being violated. But, the provisions of this agreement were so poorly drafted that they could never have been enforced.

    This lawsuit was political malfeasance. It and the other LSP antics are not contributing to Democratic prospects next year. Essentially, the program in Austin is to maximize expenditure on something like the 2002 Democratic campaign — a windfall for consultants and a catastrophe for Democrats.  

  2. When we turn on the evening news
    We will more likely hear about voter fraud in Afghanistan than we will voter suppression in Houston.

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