Ordinarily, the resignation of a second-tier county official would not be big news. But Paul Bettencourt is a high-profile figure and a stalwart in conservative Republican circles. He has been a strong voice for the GOP concern about voter fraud, having testified before the Elections Committee of the Texas House that he had found 381 “ironclad” cases of voter fraud. In an election in which Democrats were successful in defeating all but a handful of Republican judges, as well as the embattled GOP sheriff, Bettencourt was one of a handful of GOP officeholders to survive a heavy Democratic turnout.
During the early voting period in October, Bettencourt was the focus of Democratic complaints that his office was failing to approve and distribute voter registration cards to first-time registrants. KHOU-TV investigated the changes and interviewed Bettencourt and some of his critics. Here is a portion of the transcript:
“I’m shocked this is going on,” said Frances Graham who is with [the registration organization] Houston Votes….The former certified public accountant registered more than 130 new voters. But she noticed a trend. “A lot of the people that I had registered are being rejected,” said Graham. Graham then noticed another important detail. “They’re being rejected even though the application is very clear, and they had filled it out very legibly and they’d done a good job,” she explained.
Brothers Amir, Navid, and Omid Kamali registered separately, yet each got rejected by Harris County. The county claimed the brothers didn’t give proper ID or the last four digits of their social security numbers. But Graham said that isn’t so.
Frances Graham says she convinced 138 citizens to vote for the first time this year. Among those citizens were Ian Meyer, Cathy Sotello, and Donna Siley. But Harris County eventually rejected them and more than 30 others to the bewilderment of Graham.
KHOU: “So they do everything right?”
Graham: “They do everything right.”
KHOU: “Yet, they’re still getting rejected?”
Graham: “They’re still getting rejected.”
Bettencourt announced his resignation Friday in a brief statement in which he said that he had been offered an opportunity in the private sector over the Thanksgiving holidays.
However, 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.