It’s not a steel cage death match, but it’ll do.
In a strongly worded letter today, the Texas Secretary of State’s office told Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Don Sumners that his decision not to purge presumed-dead voters from the rolls before the Nov. 6 election likely violates the law and compromises the “integrity” of the Nov. 6 election.
“As director of the elections division, it is my duty to inform you that your actions likely constitute violations of both state and federal laws and put the integrity of Harris County and the State’s voter registration lists as well as the integrity of the November 6 General Election in jeopardy,” Keith Ingram wrote to Sumners. “As always, my door is open to assist you with any difficulties you have in carrying out your duties as voter registrar, or if you are unable to fulfill those duties. Should you be unwilling to fulfill your duties, this office will then evaluate what options to take on behalf of the citizens of Harris County.”
Ingram also noted that Sumners’ failure to comply with state requirements “means that the registrar is not entitled to receive voter registration funds distributed by the Secretary of State’s office.”
Assistant County Attorney Doug Ray took strong issue with the state’s letter.
“They didn’t actually specify how he’s violating the law. He sent out the letters they asked him to send out. He’s just saying that, based on the reaction he’s getting, he can’t consider the information that they sent to him reliable, which is certainly within his discretion to do,” Ray said. “If they would spend as much time getting people who are qualified on to the voter registration list as they’re spending trying to get unqualified people off, we’d all be a lot better off.”
Ray’s boss, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, yesterday said he believes the Secretary of State’s office violated the law in the way it implemented this voter purge. Ryan also released a legal memorandum stating the reasoning behind his position.
One key in his argument is that the law says “If the secretary (of state) determines that a voter on the registration list is deceased, the secretary shall send notice of the determination to the voter registrar of the counties.” Ryan says the state never made any “determination” about the life or death of the people on the list it sent to the county.
The Secretary of State’s office disagrees with Ryan’s reading of the law, saying an accompanying passage that was part of House Bill 174 (the law that required the use of this Social Security data in the first place) requires no such “determination” and supersedes the passage Ryan cites.
Any lawyers want to weigh in on this? I’m still wrapping my mind around Sumners being the good guy in all this. If I were Sean Pendergast I could probably find some pro wrestling analogy to encapsulate this, but I’m afraid I wasted my youth on other things. We’ll see how it goes from here.
UPDATE: A nice bit of snarkery related by Patricia Kilday Hart:
Spring retiree David Smith, who received one of Sumners’ notices, wondered if the whole effort wasn’t a case of voter fraud. After all, we’ve been there’s an epidemic of it going around.
Smith responded to his own death notice from Sumners with the appropriate Twain-ism:
“As Mark Twain would have it ‘Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. … A little research should have convinced you, in short order, that I am, in fact, still able to fog a mirror.”
Smith also contacted Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has vigorously defended our state’s new Voter ID effort.
Wrote Smith: “Someone apparently, has reported my death to Harris County in order, presumably, to disenfranchise me. I would request that your office execute a thorough investigation and, if appropriate, prosecute the perpetrator or perpetrators to the full extent allowed by law and with the same vigor as you have defended the proposed Texas Voter ID law before the Courts of the United States.”
I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.