From the Harris County Tax Office:
The Tax Office frequently receives inquiries or complaints from persons who have misconceptions regarding voter registration rules or procedures. These misconceptions are most often the result of persons innocently passing along incorrect information in conversations but occasionally the incorrect information appears to be intentionally spread. Regardless of the manner or intent, the spreading of incorrect information about voter
registration can cause persons to have unwarranted doubts about the integrity of the voter
To deal with the lack of correct information, we expose here some myths about voter registration
in Texas and Harris County and offer accurate information to rebut those myths.
MYTH: Texas just unilaterally changes election laws and procedures with the effect – if not the
intent – of reducing voter participation.
TRUTH: Texas is subject to the federal Voting Rights Act, which was first passed in 1965. Texas voter
registration laws and procedures are subject to pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice.
MYTH: Texas, and Harris County especially, purge hundreds of thousands of voters just before every
TRUTH: The purge occurs every two years and is done after the federal election held in November of
even numbered years. Regular maintenance of the voter list (or voter roll) is required by federal law. That
includes removing ineligible voters and duplicate names. All these things have been required by the
National Voter Registration Act since 1996 and before.
MYTH: Harris County purges more people because the state pays more money to cancel registration
than it does to add voters. Or as a recent story said, “Texas voter registration rates are among the
lowest in the nation, but Texas pays nearly twice as much to cancel voters ‐ 40 cents per cancellation ‐
as it does to register new ones at 25 cents.”
TRUTH: That absolutely implies we drop more voters because we get more money for that. But one
crucial fact puts it in context: It takes a lot more work by the local registrar to drop a voter – and it should
– than it takes to add a voter to the roll. The process requires the mailing of a confirmation letter, putting
the voter on suspense if there is no response to the letter (which IS forwardable), then, finally, purging the
voter if they do not fill out a statement of residence over the period of two federal elections.
MYTH: The Harris County Voter Registrar’s Office regularly violates the law.
TRUTH: The regular allegations that the Harris County Voter Registrar suppresses the rights of U.S.
citizens residing here have been disproven but are constantly repeated. That damages democracy and
probably discourages voters.
In 2008, the Harris County Democratic Party and the Texas Democratic Party sued the Harris County
Voter Registrar, alleging the office was too strict in processing voter applications and thus denied many
persons the right to vote. In particular, they claimed the result was the suppression of minority voter
registration. One of the attorneys in that case filed another case in federal court in Galveston in 2012
accusing the Voter Registrar there of suppressing voter registration. During a hearing, at least one of the
plaintiff’s witnesses testified that in 2008 the Harris County Voter Registrar, to facilitate the plaintiff’s
voter registration drives, agreed not to enforce some of the Texas Election Code.
We are neither too strict nor too lax. Our position in 2008 and 2012 — and always — is that we follow the
law. That protects the rights of voters and us. We serve the public with integrity.
MYTH: But, there was all kinds of evidence that persons were denied the right to vote.
TRUTH: No, there were all kinds of allegations, no proof. The plaintiffs went through thousands of
pages of documents and took the statements of numerous employees, including some who had worked
here under Carl Smith, the latest Democrat elected to lead the office.
The plaintiffs found not a single person who had been improperly denied the right to vote. Not one.
In the settlement, which the current Voter Registrar would not have agreed to, the office made one change
that was not already under way: It agreed to accept applications showing a business address as a
residence; those formerly were rejected immediately. Even under the settlement, applicants claiming to
reside at a business address may be challenged.
MYTH: My voter’s registration will be suspended and eventually purged if I don’t vote enough.
TRUTH: Unless a specific provision of the Texas Election Code applies, a registered voter stays
registered for life if that voter’s registration certificate or other correspondence from our office is never
returned as undeliverable by the Postal Service. If either is returned undeliverable, we send another letter
asking for verification that the voter lives at the address we have on file. If there is no written response
from the voter to our correspondence, the voter’s registration is put on suspense.
Voters on the suspense list can and do vote! If they have not moved or moved within their precinct, they
just have to give the election judge a completed Statement of Residence form prior to voting. That
updates their registration, and they are taken off the suspense list. Only after a voter on the suspense list
fails to update their registration within TWO consecutive federal election cycles is his or her registration
canceled. The Texas Election Code requires this cancellation. Note that you don’t even have to vote to get
off the suspense list, just update your registration.
If you’ve moved within Harris County, you can update your registration during early voting or, on
Election Day, vote in your old precinct.
If you have moved out of Harris County, it gets more complicated. In that case, call the voter registrar in
your new county of residence for assistance.
MYTH: There is no good reason to require a tight chain of custody and accountability over voter
registration applications. Doing so just makes voter registration drives more difficult.
TRUTH: Applicants expect their applications to be turned in timely. And, the state wants to minimize
loss of the applications and to prevent identity theft. Applications contain sufficient personal data to
enable a criminal to steal the applicant’s identification. That’s why the law was recently changed to
prevent active felons from qualifying as volunteer deputy voter registrars and making it illegal for
volunteer deputies to make photocopies of voter registration applications.