As they say, reports of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated.
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners said Monday that he would not purge from the voter roll before the November election any of the 9,018 citizens who received letters from his office in recent days notifying them that they may be dead and are at risk of having their registrations canceled.
However, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, the office that generated the statewide list of about 80,000 voters, said Sumners’ move contradicts legislative directives.
“Our office has federal and state requirements to maintain an accurate and secure voter registration list. If any of those people are deceased, the law requires that they be removed from the voter registration list ,” Rich Parsons said. “Mr. Sumners’ decision would prevent that.”
The letters, many of which were delivered Friday and Saturday, asked recipients to verify within 30 days that they are alive or be cut from the roll.
Sumners, who also is the county’s voter registrar, said conversations with the Secretary of State’s Office convinced him the list of possible dead was too unreliable to act on until after the Nov. 6 election.
“We’re not even going to process any of the cancellations until after the election,” Sumners said. “Because we’ve gotten such a response from people that say that they are still alive.”
House Bill 174, passed last year, required the secretary of state to purge possibly dead voters quarterly using data from the Social Security Administration, Parsons said; the office long has used similar data from the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
“The process is nothing new,” he said. “What’s new is the use of the Social Security Administration’s death master file. The Social Security Administration, as I understand it, had made clear to our office that they don’t guarantee or provide any assurance of the accuracy of their list.”
The Secretary of State’s Office and local tax offices regularly purge dead voters from the rolls, based on information from several sources. In some cases, the voter’s birth date, name, or other identifying data is considered a strong enough match to death records to remove the voter from the roll automatically; when the match is weaker, the voter is sent a letter giving him an opportunity to prove he is alive. Last week’s batch mailing was unusually large, local and state officials said.
Perhaps the problem was with HB174, which passed with bipartisan support despite these issues. As with the voter registration restrictions that are being litigated, this bill got very little attention as it was being debated. State Sen. Rodney Ellis has some questions for the SOS about this that deserve answers. I just wish some of these questions had been brought up last year. We’ve discussed the challenges of registration purges before. This is another example of why they should be undertaken with extreme caution to add to the pile. I don’t say this very often, but kudos to Don Sumners for doing the right thing. I hope other county voter registrars follow his example if they have similar doubts.
I can’t be the only one who read this story and thought of this, can I?
You’re not fooling anyone, you know.