It’s getting real at the Tax Assessor’s office.
Harris County election officials got a bit of a surprise Friday morning when they attempted to open the county’s spending account on the Texas Secretary of State’s office website and found their access blocked. State officials have temporarily cut off the county’s voter registration funding.
“We received verification from (state election division Director) Keith Ingram that funding was being held up,” said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners.
Secretary of State spokesman Rich Parsons said state officials halted funding Tuesday after learning that Sumners refused to purge deceased voters from the voter rolls as required by federal and state law.
Sumners’ office collected about $711,000 in fiscal 2010 and about $66,000 in 2011. It has received about $31,000 of an expected $732,404 so far this year, Parsons said.
The spending account on the state agency’s website enables registrars to track voter registration funding expenditures and to submit reimbursement claims.
Sumners said the county needs the money to pay $7,500 in weekly wages to 18 temporary workers and to cover other costs.
“It will have a pretty dramatic effect on ability to process the work we need to do and other documents we need to complete to produce voter roll for the November election,” he said.
Sumners is not the only county official pushing back on this.
Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said Wednesday that her office does not have sufficient staff or time to check out all names on a list sent out last week by the secretary of state indicating that some area voters may be deceased.
The secretary of state, acting under a 2011 law enacted by the Legislature, notified county officials across the state that nearly 77,000 voters may be dead and should be checked out locally to determine if they should be struck from voter rolls. About 9,000 voters in Dallas County were identified.
Pippins-Poole said it’s too close to the election to act, and doing so could jeopardize some citizens’ right to vote.
“We absolutely intend to comply with the law, but we need enough time to process these reviews,” she said. “Until we hear something different, we believe this is the best way to handle this.”
The secretary of state’s office compared current voter rolls with a master list of deceased or potentially deceased Texans compiled by the Social Security Administration. After its review, the state compiled a list of voters who had a “strong match” between the two lists and those who had a “weak match.”
Pippins-Poole said that of the 9,000 names from Dallas County, only 830 were found to have a strong match. All of those residents are being sent letters asking them to respond if they are alive and still registered to vote — but they will not have to do so until after the Nov. 6 election. A strong match means the same last name, birth date and full Social Security number on both lists.
As for the other voters who were identified by the state based on weak matches — the same last name and last four digits of the Social Security number — Pippins-Poole said her office will not pursue additional verification.
Far as I can tell, the SOS has not taken any action against Dallas County as of yet. As for Harris County, there may be a lawsuit on the horizon:
[County Attorney Vince] Ryan responded to Ingram’s letter Wednesday. He said that his office reviewed Sumners’ and the county’s actions and was confident that neither had violated federal or state law.
“The letter did not cite any specific statute or rule that was allegedly violated nor does it state any basis for denial of funds under (Texas Election Code) 18.064,” Ryan wrote.
He also threatened to sue the state if it attempts “to withhold funds without a proper legal basis.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear how Greg Abbott justifies the use of a filthy federal database to force elections administrators in the State of Texas to do something they don’t think is right.