Noncitizen Voter Prosecution Shows Need for Transparency in Harris County
Posted on May 14th, 2018
Texas to Prosecute “Non-citizen” for Alleged Voter Impersonation
(HOUSTON, TX.) – May 14, 2018: The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) commended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s announcement regarding the forthcoming prosecution of Laura Janeth Garza for alleged voter impersonation and ineligible voting in Harris County.
The Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the prosecution and released the indictment today.
“This case demonstrates clearly why we must have improved transparency from Harris County on questions related to ineligible voting,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said. “A Mexican national stands accused of impersonating a U.S. citizen and voting three times—largely thanks to a broken honor system which local officials do not feel compelled to answer for. Citizens deserve protections against illegal activities like alleged and transparency is the first step toward ensuring them.”
The PILF is currently engaged in federal and state lawsuits to seek the release of records belonging to former registrants who were officially discovered or self-reported their ineligible noncitizen statuses to the Harris County Voter Registrar. Last week, the PILF responded to claims suggesting that it had no right to data related to noncitizen voter registrants and that the federal case should be stayed pending a state court judgment in Austin, among other matters. The Foundation also further briefed the Court in support of its motion for preliminary injunction to gain access to records before the 2018 Midterm Elections.
Below is a breakdown of primary arguments before the court as of release time.
Harris County cannot discriminate between which categories of cancelled voters it wishes to disclose when federal law is clear on the matter. Defendant considers maintenance records accessible only when a registrant is dead or relocated. The PILF filing counters, “[Harris County] interpretation [of federal law] produces an absurd result in that it would permit election officials to operate in secret in an area of constitutional importance. Congress made all list maintenance records subject to public inspection precisely so that the general public can hold election officials accountable for their actions.”
Harris County should not be allowed to derail the federal case over needless state court proceedings. The Defendant asked the Court to pause federal proceedings due to its lawsuit against the Texas Attorney General after the State recommended that requested records be disclosed under local statute. The PILF argues that its federal case should proceed since no request for records was ever made under Texas law. The Foundation plainly notes that federal law supersedes Texas law.
Harris County injures the public when it denies federal inspection rights. There is no question that a properly submitted inspection request was denied by the County. Supreme Court and recent Appellate Court precedent clearly finds that a requester seeking public documents suffers an “injury in fact” when it is denied and therefore enjoys standing to bring a lawsuit to compel disclosure.
Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 allows individuals to request inspection or seek copies of “records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters,” the PILF noted in its original complaint.
A copy of the case fact sheet can be found, here.
The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. The case number is 4:18-cv-00981.
Attorneys for the Public Interest Legal Foundation are J. Christian Adams, Noel H. Johnson, and Joseph Vanderhulst. Brenham-based Andy Taylor of Andy Taylor & Associates, P.C. serves as local counsel.
Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is a 501(c)(3) public interest law firm dedicated to election integrity. The Foundation exists to assist states and others to aid the cause of election integrity and fight against lawlessness in American elections. Drawing on numerous experts in the field, PILF seeks to protect the right to vote and preserve the Constitutional framework of American elections.