More than 49,000 ineligible voters on Texas rolls, the headline blares. Sound scary to you? Consider this:
More than 49,000 people on the Texas voter registration rolls in May may not have been eligible to vote, state auditors reported today.
The ineligible voters included 23,114 possible felons, 23,576 people who were deceased and 2,359 voters with duplicate records. The auditors said the ineligible voters represented 0.4 percent of the state's 12.3 million registered voters.
Putting it another way, the closest statewide election in the last 10 years was the 1998 contest between Carole Keeton then-Rylander and Paul Hobby for Comptroller. Rylander won by 20,000 votes, so had each of these felons and dead people participated (and assuming they were either felons or dead back then), they could conceivably had tipped the election to Hobby. Of course, if we assume that felons and dead people turn out at the same rate as other registered voters, then the 36% of the 49,000 of them would not quite have been enough to affect the outcome, even if they all voted for Hobby. Point I'm making is that in context, this is a very small number.
Obviously, the Secretary of State and the various county officials have done a pretty good job of keeping the voter rolls up to date. Frankly, the truly scary prospect is that they're so good at cleansing the rolls that they've been (accidentally or otherwise) throwing perfectly legitimate (i.e., non-dead, non-felon, non-duplicate) people out as well. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone is keeping track of how many such disenfranchised voters there may be, so we've no basis for comparison. But we should at least bear it in mind.
UPDATE: Here's the fuller version of the story.
State auditors found more than 49,000 potentially ineligible felons and dead people on Texas voter rolls this year, but did not find that any cast ballots in May's special election.
The audit report released Tuesday said that there may be even more potentially inaccurate voter information but they were unable to check for U.S. citizenship status or federal felony convictions or verify records that lacked a Social Security number and Texas driver's license number.
The audit recommended that the Secretary of State's Office do a better job of matching criminal conviction and death records with the voter list.
Although there were no instances found of potentially ineligible voters casting ballots in the May 12 special election, auditors noted the "relatively low 7 percent voter turnout" for that special constitutional amendment election to extend a school property tax cut to senior citizens and disabled homeowners.
The audit also found inadequate security controls over a new computer system that maintains voter records and weaknesses in data backup that increase the risk of prompt and full recovery of data from a disaster.
Scott Haywood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Phil Wilson, said the office has implemented many of the auditors' recommendations but wants to be careful about wrongly removing anyone from voter rolls.
He noted that the auditors were unable to verify that the 23,114 possible felons and 23,576 possibly deceased voters actually should be removed from voting lists.
"We can't remove someone from the voter roll unless it's a strong match because we don't want to take away an eligible voter's right to vote," Haywood said.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the audit didn't find any fraud had occurred in the May election. He said the ID requirement could suppress turnout among many Texans who are eligible to vote.
"Every time someone says, 'Show me the fraud,' there isn't any," said Coleman.