Texas County Accused of Bias Against Black, Latino Voters

Harris County in Texas was sued in federal court in Houston by the League of United Latin American Citizens over claims it discriminates against blacks and Latinos by disproportionately challenging their voter registration.

The county, which includes Houston, rejects voter- registration applications from zip codes dominated by Latino and black residents at a higher rate than it does applications from zip codes with predominantly white residents, the activists said in the complaint.

LULAC also seeks assurances that 9,018 local voters who were incorrectly notified in September that they would be removed from election rolls in a state-ordered purge of possibly-deceased voters will be notified by Don Sumners, the county’s voting registrar, that they may still vote in the upcoming election.

“Voters who received the letter and who are alive but have not confirmed that fact to defendant Sumners’ office may not vote in the general election because they mistakenly believe that they have been removed from the voter registration rolls,” Luis Roberto Vera Jr., LULAC’s national general counsel, said in the complaint.

The minority-rights group also contends that Sumners hasn’t processed voter registration applications in a timely fashion, and that his backlog of unprocessed applications is disproportionately black and Hispanic.

Provisional Ballot

Individuals whose applications weren’t processed in time “will not appear on the books at the polls and will likely be forced to vote a provisional ballot, if permitted to vote at all,” Vera said in the complaint.

Sumners, in an e-mailed statement, called LULAC’s challenge “another unwarranted political lawsuit” similar to one filed in 2008 by the Texas Democratic Party. That case was resolved “when the Democratic Party was unable to produce a single person who had been illegally denied the right to register and vote,” he said.

Sumners, a Republican, said he’s already refused to remove any voters from election rolls as part of the state’s dead-voter purge program, a campaign he urged state officials to alter to keep from improperly deleting voters close to a presidential election.

“I have publicly promised that none will be removed until after the Nov. 6 election and a thorough screening by my office,” Sumners said.

LULAC also said that in 2010, Sumners stopped sending county election personnel to collect voter registration applications at Houston naturalization ceremonies.

“Prior to 2010, at a typical naturalization ceremony, approximately 1,500 persons would become U.S. citizens, and of this number, around 80 percent would register to vote on-site, within minutes of taking their citizenship oath,” Vera said.

The case is LULAC v. Harris County, 12-cv-03035, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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