Supress the Vote!

Another post from our field contributor Sarah McDonald:

When I was deputized as a voter registrar in Harris County, I was warned to carefully double-check all forms to make sure every box was checked, every “i” dotted and each “t” crossed.  If anyone forgot to check the appropriate boxes, include their full address, or listed a nickname rather than legal name, their registration could be denied.  It made me angry that someone could lose the fundamental right to vote over such a silly mistake, but I figured — that’s bureaucracy for you.

So imagine my shock to learn that many valid, clearly legible, and perfectly completed voter registration applications were being denied by Paul Bettencourt’s Harris County Tax-Assessor Collector’s office.

It is bad enough when the vote is denied due to ridiculous human errors such as typos, misspellings, or nicknames that don’t match up to driver’s license databases.  But when 18-year-olds are told repeatedly that they are too young to vote, and applications with social security numbers clearly listed on carbon copy-receipts are rejected as incomplete due to that “missing” identification information – one has to wonder whether something more sinister is afoot.

KHOU-TV, channel 11 news in Houston, aired an investigative report to that effect which you can watch  here.  So amazing was the response to this story, they followed up with another story last night which you can see here.

Mounting evidence demonstrates that the Harris County trend of voter registration denial may be the result not of incompetence, but actual voter suppression.  An editorial that ran this week in the New York Times claims that Republicans in states across the nation are fighting to make it more difficult to enroll new voters.  In Harris County, research has shown that newly registered voters are more likely to vote Democrat.

But whether you believe that the Harris County denials are due to partisan machinations or not (we here at Texas Vox will reserve judgment for now), it is quite clear that voter registration in Houston has been grossly mishandled.  In KHOU-TV’s report, elections expert Laurie Vanhoose, stated that, “high numbers of people are being rejected due to inconsistent practices of reviewing applications.”  What’s more, the Tax Assessor/Collector’s office has not complied with state law requiring timely notification of rejection.  Citizens are supposed to be notified within 7 days that their voter registration has been denied, but Mary Finch from the Texas chapter of the non-partisan League of Women Voters said that many people who registered in July are only now learning of their rejection.  And now it’s mostly too late.

We’re not talking about one or two, or even, as claimed by Bettencourt in the interview, “25” mistakes.  Vanhoose, based on the Tax Assessor Collector office’s own registration records, says that “thousands of registrations” have been improperly handled.  Thousands.

After the lengthy media circus of this presidential campaign, and all that rides on the election at the local, state, and federal level — how would you feel if come November 4th, you were wrongly denied the right to cast your ballot?

The current scandal gives us all just another reason to go out and vote early.  If you wait until Election Day to vote, there won’t be any time to clear up potential errors.  Verifying early that your name is on the rolls may give denied voters the chance to challenge mistakes.  Many of the individuals highlighted in KHOU’s segment had their registrations re-instated.  If your name is not registered, you may also demand to complete a provisional ballot – currently the only way to vote if your name is missing from the rolls.  I would also strongly encourage anyone encountering problems to contact Houston Votes, a non-partisan non-profit committed to ensuring that every voice is heard at 713-782-8833.  It is very important that the scope of this situation is fully documented.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can check your registration status at the Texas Secretary of State’s website using your driver’s license # or first and last name.  Please do this now and then go participate in early voting.  This way you can check any problems and try to resolve them BEFORE Election Day.  Happy Voting! ~~Citizen Andy