HOUSTON - A federal lawsuit accuses Harris County and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Don Sumners of allegedly committing acts which disenfranchise minority voters, recent court records show.
The 17-page suit, filed Oct. 11 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas, asserts the defendants rejected voter registration applications from individuals of African American and Hispanic descent in an effort to intimidate, threaten or coerce.
The plaintiffs in the case are the League of United Latin American Citizens and a group of Houston residents.
According to the original petition, Sumners and the county violated a resolution agreement stemming from the disposition of a 2008 lawsuit, which barred the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector's Office "from failing to register a voter for the sole reason that the alleged residential address of an applicant may be a commercial address."
"It is unfortunate that LULAC has chosen not to discuss their concerns with my office and instead filed a lawsuit based on erroneous assumptions and bogus 'facts,'" Sumners wrote in an Oct. 11 press release.
Sumners refused to register voters and turned down applications, implementing a change in the procedures for registering voters different from the precleared procedures set forth in the resolution agreement, the suit says.
"There is no doubt that this lawsuit is politically motivated," Sumners said. "The actual allegations in the lawsuit for the most part cover the same accusations of the Texas Democratic Party suit of 2008. After months of discovery and the taking of multiple depositions, the lawsuit was resolved when the Democratic Party was unable to produce a single person who had been illegally denied the right to register and vote."
The suit states defendants received thousands of applications with instructions to submit them to the Texas Secretary of State, but declined them on grounds they lacked "all the required information."
State law requires applicants who were rejected to be notified as to why their paperwork was declined. According to the suit, the reason that applications were declined because "all the required information" was lacking is vague and contrary to what was established in the resolution agreement and the state's election code.
LULAC also claims Sumners decided not to send office personnel to naturalization ceremonies in the Houston area to register newly sworn U.S. citizens, which had been standard practice prior to 2010.
"LULAC is claiming procedures required by my office are hindering voter registration efforts of the League of Women Voters at monthly naturalization ceremonies for new citizens," Sumners stated. "Embarrassingly for LULAC, here again this allegation is totally wrong and easily disproven."
Consequently, the plaintiffs seek a judgment which declares the changes to voter registration requirements and procedures made by the defendants "legally unenforceable" and prevents their continued implementation.
"There are also allegations that my office has acted in a discriminatory manner by disproportionately purging minority voters whose names appeared on the 'dead voter' lists recently received from the Secretary of State," Sumners stated. "As of today, no registered voter whose name appeared on either list has been purged unless the voter’s death has been confirmed. I have publically promised that none will be removed until after the Nov. 6 election and a thorough screening by my office."
Attorney Luis Roberto Vera Jr. with The Law Offices of Luis Vera Jr. and Associates in San Antonio is representing the complainants.
Case No. 4:12-cv-3035
Marilyn Tennissen contributed to this article