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Settlement reached in “dead voter” lawsuit

It’s something.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A lawsuit by four registered voters alleging that the state of Texas was violating their civil rights by purging them from voter rolls has been dropped after the plaintiffs and the state reached an agreement.

The Texas residents brought the suit after receiving letters from their county registrar indicating that the office had reason to believe the voters were dead. Elections officials stated the voters would be dropped from the voter rolls if they did not respond to a letter asking them to prove they were alive within 30 days.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs won an injunction last month to stop the process after tens of thousands of letters were sent out, including many to voters who were still alive. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sought to have the restraining order dissolved, however, and a hearing was scheduled for this week on the matter. After Wednesday’s agreement, however, the plaintiffs agreed to drop the suit after the state agreed that it would not purge voters if they failed to respond within the allotted time frame.

“The confusion arose because some 68,000 notices of ‘potential deceased’ voters were sent out to county voter registrars based on ‘weak’ information that some of them might be dead,” plaintiffs’’ attorney Randall “Buck” Wood said in a news release. “All sorts of voters were mailed out a demand to respond to these notices within 30 days or be purged from the voter rolls right before the election.”

The two sides agreed that instead, the plaintiffs would not object to the purging of voters whom the secretary of state or local registrars could confirm were dead, and the secretary of state’s office sent out a revised instructional statement to county elections administrators.

“Voter registrars are expected to conduct an independent review of ‘weak’ matches to determine whether a voter is appropriately on the voter rolls,” Keith Ingram, the director of the state’s elections division, wrote in the revised statement. “Records of potentially deceased voters should be reviewed as quickly as possible once information is received by a Voter Registrar indicating the voter may be deceased.”

See here for more on the lawsuit. Maybe if the Secretary of State had done a better job informing election administrators and voter registrars what they were supposed to do with the data they got all this unpleasantness could have been avoided. It just boggles my mind at how much more effort we put into making it harder to vote than we do making it easier.

While there were many thousands of voters around the state who got these “prove you’re not dead” letters, I wonder how much attention this would have gotten had it not been for the spectacular snafu in Harris County. The Chron took a closer look at the recipients of those letters here, and guess what they found? Go on, guess.

Voters in traditionally African-American neighborhoods were disproportionately affected when Harris County officials notified 9,000 people their registrations could be cancelled unless they proved they were not deceased, according to a Chronicle analysis of data obtained from the Texas Secretary of State.

Already, 32 percent of voters who received “Are you dead?” letters across the county in September – just six weeks before the presidential elections – have confirmed they are very much alive, election officials said this week. Because of widespread complaints, no county voters will be purged before the November elections unless their deaths are independently confirmed, according to Don Sumners, the county’s tax assessor collector and voter registrar.

The Chronicle’s analysis showed that voters living in African-American districts – specifically created by lawmakers to enhance political representation of blacks on the county commission and the Texas Legislature – received more letters than voters in other districts. Nearly 2,900 live in Harris County Commissioner’s Precinct 1 – a minority opportunity district created more than two decades ago that includes most of the county’s historically black neighborhoods.

You can consider that a coincidence if you want. In a year where the state of Texas has twice been found by a federal court to have systematically discriminated against minority voters, it’s more than a bit of a stretch. Whatever the case, I’m sure it felt like the same old story to a lot of these folks. I’m just glad it got stopped.

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One Comment

  1. Mainstream says:

    Working with the voter rolls in the mid-1990s, I discovered that voter registration rolls in predominantly white neighborhoods are much more accurate than those in predominantly black neighborhoods. [The evidence was developed in connection to looking at differences in voter participation rates by race in Harris County. It turned out that most of the perceived racial differences were phantom, the result of much less accurate voter lists in minority areas. Use of adult census data showed very different results.] There may be several reasons for this: more persons are renters, more live in apartments, black or Democrat election workers are reluctant to ever remove anyone from the rolls, etc. Every election cycle I report dozens of duplicate registrations, deaths, or moved voters to the voter registrar in my predominantly white area. So I am not at all surprised that on average a greater number of deceased or potentially deceased voters would be in these lower income, more mobile, more minority areas.

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