Bettencourt Resigns

Controversial Harris County voter registrar accused of vote suppression

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt (photo from

The smarmy tenure of Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector (and voter registrar) Paul Bettencourt just added one more bit of smarm: He has resigned only a month after being re-elected.

Although today's article in the Houston Chronicle gives the Republican credit for modernizing his office since he was elected in 1998, he has also drawn accusations of voter suppression, both for his failure to process thousands of voter registrations before the start of this year's general election early voting and for his staunch support of laws requiring photo identification to cast a vote or even register to vote.

Lower voter turnout is generally thought to help Republican candidates, and critics of voter ID laws say they would stop many women, minorities, and elderly voters (constituencies that often go Democrat) from casting ballots while not solving the voter fraud problems they supposedly target.

Bettencourt told the Houston Chronicle that he is leaving to pursue a private business venture. In today's Quorum Report, publisher Harvey Kronberg speculated that Bettencourt timed his resignation for after the election to allow Republican Harris County Commissioners to name his replacement, rather than November's voters.

"Campaign contributors and supporters are no doubt stunned that Bettencourt used them to seek an office that he will not take," Kronberg writes. "Was his intention to simply leverage his name ID into a Republican win an an otherwise Democratic year while never intending to take the oath of office?"

And Texas Monthly's Paul Burka noted this morning, "if he had remained in office, the chances were that things would have gotten rather unpleasant for him. Democrats had filed a lawsuit accusing Bettencourt of illegally rejecting voter registration applications and have said they would pursue the lawsuit next year. A case involving civil rights with the Justice Department in Democratic hands may well have been enough to persuade Bettencourt that the time was right for a career change."

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