HOUSTON – A local group fears money troubles could make it harder for some of the country’s newest citizens to exercise one of their core fundamental freedoms.
Newly naturalized citizens are sworn in once a month in Harris County. Of those, about 1,100 typically register to vote.
However, when word came in November that the voter registration portion was coming to an end, the Houston Area League of Women Voters was not happy.
"Put out, worried. We didn’t quite know how to respond," said league president Nancy Parra.
The league got a letter from new Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar Don Sumners.
In the letter, Sumners wrote "painful budget cuts" meant a county representative could no longer pick up the paperwork from the ceremony.
The move meant volunteers would have to use a different form.
"This is what is most time consuming," Parra said.
As a result, officials would only be able to register about 100 instead the usual 1,000 or more.
Some Democrats were not happy with the news either.
"The law is very clear: anytime you change a procedure that affects voter registration you must submit that for advance approval by the U.S. Department of Justice," Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg said.
Birnberg complained to the Harris County Attorney’s Office, which agreed.
"The county attorney will submit an application to the Department of Justice for preclearance for new procedures," said spokesman Douglas Ray.
The voter registrar’s office is now checking with the Secretary of State.
"Don decided this morning we’re gonna seek a waiver," said Harris County spokesman Fred King.
A waiver would mean the old form could be used without volunteers filling out extra paper work, and the league – not a county employee -- would bring bar code applications to the registrar’s office.
Meanwhile, the federal government will review the new registration process for new citizens, which should take should take one to two months.