The Courts

Texas’s Largest County Settles Lawsuit Over Noncitizens on Voter Rolls

County officials had refused watchdog inspection of voter registrations

Voting Booth in Houston, Texas / Getty Images

The largest county in Texas settled a lawsuit with a watchdog group after refusing to release records dealing with noncitizens on its voter rolls.

A federal district court in Houston entered a settlement agreement this week between the Harris County voter registrar and the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF). The settlement calls for the county to turn over records on its cancellations of ineligible voters, copies of registration applications that have blank or negative responses to citizenship questions, and all registrar communications with law enforcement regarding ineligible registrants, among other records. Officials from Harris County, the most populous county in Texas, previously testified that "thousands" of noncitizens were discovered on its voter rolls every year.

The settlement comes as the election watchdog group seeks to clean voter rolls in major cities ahead of the November elections. Democrats have pushed back against attempts to clean voter rolls, often calling them "purges." Individuals removed for ineligibility tend to belong to demographic groups that lean Democrat. Texas has in recent years become a target of national Democrats, who have poured millions into the Lone Star State in attempts to gain power.

PILF initially sought access to Harris County's voter information in December 2017 under Section 8 of the National Voters Registration Act of 1993. The act allows individuals to look at records "concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters."

PILF wanted information on registrants who were removed for being noncitizens but was refused access to the documents. The group sent a final notice in January 2018 warning the county it would face litigation if it continued to block PILF's inspection. County officials did not budge. PILF filed its lawsuit in March 2018.

"For more than a decade, Harris County officials lobbied for or against state and federal election reforms citing the fact that noncitizens were becoming registered there," Logan Churchwell, communications director for PILF, told the Washington Free Beacon. "We know this is a problem around the country. Harris County records can provide the largest sampling of the reported problems in Texas and identify system flaws in need of attention."

"Our elections cannot afford weaknesses," Churchwell said. "We must plug gaps that are impacting citizens and immigrants alike."

The county defendants did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

PILF has filed a number of lawsuits in cities across the country in recent months. The group filed a suit against Detroit officials after discovering 2,500 dead registrants on the city's voter rolls. Nearly 5,000 voters appeared more than once on the rolls, and there were more registered voters than there were eligible voters in the city.

PILF also filed suit against Pittsburgh officials after finding dead voters, duplicate registrants, and 1,500 registrants aged 100 or above (49 marked as being born in the 1800s) on county voter rolls.