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Vote suspension update

The situation gets more complicated.

Harris County mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on its suspension list in response to a local Republican official’s challenge of nearly 4,000 voter registrations, county Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett said Wednesday.

The situation quickly spun into a partisan spat with the Harris County Democrats accusing the GOP of targeting Democratic voters, and the Harris County Republican Party blasting Bennett, who also is the county’s voter registrar, for the suspensions and for confusing voters.

“Democrat Voter Registrar Ann Harris Bennett should not have jumped the gun by suspending those voters’ registrations,” Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said in a statement. “We urge Democrat Ann Harris Bennett to follow the law and quit violating voters’ rights.”

The suspensions came to light after Bennett’s office mailed letters to the voters whose registrations were challenged, asking them to confirm their addresses.

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said counties are required to give voters 30 days to respond to those requests before placing them on a suspension list, but Bennett’s office took that action prematurely in some cases.

“They were following procedure they believed was the correct procedure, but after they consulted with us, they realized that the correct procedure was to wait 30 days,” Ray said.

Bennett blamed the mistake on a software glitch. She said her office discovered the error after three or four days, and immediately fixed the 1,735 suspended registrations.

The suspension list is poorly named, Ray said, because voters whose registrations are placed on suspension remain eligible to cast ballots. Voters are purged from the rolls, he said, only if they are placed on the suspension list, fail to respond to letters from the county and fail to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

See here for the background. It’s good that the suspensions were undone, but it’s annoying that Bennett’s office got the law wrong in the first place. It’s also annoying that the law allows people to make such challenges based on flimsy evidence, which as we saw in this case caused problems for real people who done nothing to warrant it. Even if their registrations being put into suspense was premature and incorrect, the fact that they were sent a letter they had to respond to in order to avoid any future issues was needlessly intrusive. Thus, I still believe that law needs to be revised, and we all need to be on guard for shenanigans like this, since the increase in voter registration in Harris County is a big threat to the Republicans. For now at least we can dial down that alarm a bit. That goes for me, too. The Press has more.

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4 Comments

  1. voter_worker says:

    Yes indeed, the situation gets more complicated with the help of confusing articles, misunderstanding of the basis for using voters’ residential address for voter registration, and a healthy dose of partisan hyper-reactions to what is nothing more than a bureaucratic snafu. I’m particularly disappointed in the Chronicle’s statement by Bob Stein. Since he didn’t make the link between residence address and political district integrity, I will. District apportionment, aka re-districting, is based on data from the decennial Census, which amasses population data correlated with respondent’s place of residence. If a voter registers at a business or private mail box, chances are very high that they will be voting a ballot populated by districts in which they do not reside. Under the current methodology, a suburban voter who wishes to participate in City of Houston elections without the necessity of actually living in the City can do so simply by registering at a private mailbox in the City.

    Neither of the two articles linked to address the reason why the Harris County VR is required to register voters at business addresses if they use one on their application despite the application stipulating that a residence address be provided. Mr. Lane’s place of registration is classified on HCAD as a commercial property. Does he live there? Under current procedures that is an irrelevant question.

    Mr. Vera, by his actions, is disputing this arrangement. It was interesting to read that he and his volunteers “combed” the voter rolls looking for people registered at business addresses when he could have simply asked the VR for a list of voters registered at business addresses.

  2. Andrew Lynch says:

    The origin of this story is the most concerning. Who are these people that are registered at PO boxes & business addresses? Are they real people ?

  3. voter_worker says:

    @Andrew Lynch New applications and updates to existing records are vetted by both the county VRs and the Texas Secretary of State. The answer to your second question is yes.

  4. Mainstream says:

    A person can be “domiciled” at a location but not literally “resident” there, and still be entitled to legally vote. The most typical examples are soldiers, missionaries, embassy employees working abroad, oil field workers living abroad, students, all of whom may be temporarily physically residing somewhere else, but retain a connection with their former home area of Houston, and should be allowed to vote here if they wish. More troubling to me are the political candidates and voters who have no intention of ever living in the area they represent in government, but list a residence for convenience or to qualify to run for office.