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You sure you’re registered?

Your voter registration could get cancelled without you realizing what’s happening.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 – often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data.

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Statewide, more than 1.5 million voters could be on the path to cancellation if they fail to vote or to update their records for two consecutive federal elections: One out of every 10 Texas voters’ registration is currently suspended. Among voters under 30, the figure is about one in five.

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.

State and federal laws require the nation’s voter rolls be regularly reviewed and cleaned to remove duplicates and eliminate voters who moved away or died. But across Texas, such “removals” rely on outdated computer programs, faulty procedures and voter responses to generic form letters, often resulting in the wrong people being sent cancellation notices, including new homeowners, college students, Texans who work abroad and folks with common names, a Chronicle review of cancellations shows.

The Secretary of State’s office says it automatically cancels voters only when there is a “strong match” between a new registration and an older existing voter – such as full name, Social Security number and/or date of birth.

However, each year thousands of voters receive requests to verify voter information or be cancelled because they share the same name as a voter who died, got convicted of a crime or claimed to be a non-citizen to avoid jury duty. Those voters receive form letters generated by workers in county election offices that “therefore may be more subject to error,” said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State in emailed responses to the newspaper. Voters who fail to respond to form letters – or never receive them – get dropped.

First, since I have been critical of the Chron in the past for its mealy-mouthed characterization of the voter ID issue, let me praise them for this story. It raises an important issue that I daresay too many people don’t think much about. It’s also something that provably happens with great frequency, unlike those wild allegations about vote fraud.

We have some experience with mistaken identity in our house. There is another woman in this town with the same name as my wife and a history of not paying her bills. We know this because we have received numerous calls over the years from bill collectors. Some were easier to dissauade that the woman they were lookinf for was not at our house than others, but it was a giant pain regardless. If my wife can be mistaken for someone else by bill collectors, she can just as easily be misidentified by the Tax Assessor’s office in the event that woman goes to jail or dies or changes her name or something like that. As former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, whose registration was briefly suspended by the Tax Assessor’s office back in 2003 over a similar name confusion, said in the story, the burden of proof should be on them before any action is taken, and not on the voter.

All this, of course, is without even mentioning the potential for partisan mischief like what we’ve seen in Florida lately and in Harris County in recent years as well. There’s a reason there’s been so much litigation over the way the voter rolls are maintained. I was taught as a kid that the right to vote is one of this country’s basic foundations, but we sure don’t act like it. Neil and BOR have more.

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3 Comments

  1. Brad M. says:

    Well, the fish rots from the head first.

    SOS of Texas’ office isn’t going to jump to fix this probem in my opinion.

  2. Ross says:

    What do you want them to do? Ignore when registration cards come back as undeliverable? Not revoke the voting privileges of someone who claims not to be a citizen? Those purged have several chances to keep their names on the rolls – it’s not the job of government to hold the hands of someone whoi isn’t paying attention. I’m starting to think it’s time to purge the rolls of all voters, and do a complete reregistration, using current rules.

    Voting is supposed to be hard. You don’t want everyone just wandering in to vote, not having a clue as to what they are doing. I want voters to have thought about their choices, not pick the most familiar name or the guy they saw on a billboard.

  3. [...] the Kuff reminds you that your voter registration status is in the hands of a bureaucrat who might mistake you for someone [...]

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