“Dead voter” purge finally laid to rest

Our long countywide nightmare is finally over.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The running dispute over presumed-dead voters on Harris County rolls was substantially resolved Wednesday between the Texas Secretary of State’s office and Harris County’s tax registrar just hours before a Travis County judge issued an order that temporarily prevents the removal of names from registration lists statewide.


Sumners called a news conference Wednesday afternoon to present his position.

He said he didn’t know there were two lists and that “someone” in his office decided to send letters to those on the longer one without his knowledge.

“I obviously don’t personally handle everything,” he said. “Yes, it is my responsibility, but it wasn’t my personal mistake.”

Sumners said he’s prepared to take legal action against the secretary of state over her office’s interpretation and implementation of state law regarding voter purges.

“The secretary of state is supposed to say: ‘This is a dead person. Take ’em off.’ But that’s not what they did,” he said, beating the podium. “They sent us a roll that said: ‘This may be a dead person.’ ”

He added that he hesitated to purge unconfirmed dead people to avoid eligible voters showing up to the polls and having to cast provisional ballots.

“We will have a good, tight voter roll,” he said of the estimated 1.9 million registered voters in Harris County. “I don’t think we are going to have dead people voting.”

I’ve been hard on Don Sumners for a lot of things, and he’s generally deserved it. Here again, he demonstrates that this office was not a good fit for him. Just way too many high-profile screwups, and to blame this one on “someone” in his office is not acceptable. He’s in charge, he owns it. It’s a good thing his days as Tax Assessor are drawing to a close. Having said all that, I do respect him for his advocacy of the basic principle that all eligible voters should be allowed to vote. It would have been very easy for him to purge away and let it be the voters’ responsibility to fix it. We wouldn’t be in this situation if he were a competent office manager, but at least he did his best to contain the damage. Enjoy your retirement in January, Don.

The story mentions in the first paragraph a lawsuit related to this mess, then never gives any information about it. A little Google searching led me to this.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed yesterday by four Texas voters who were told they would be purged from voter- registration lists as deceased. They asked state court Judge Tim Sulak in Austin to stop the state from striking about 77,000 names from the rolls, arguing the plan violates the Texas election code and the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

The secretary of state is “restrained from further instructing the counties to remove any other names from the voter rolls,” Sulak said in his order. “Plaintiffs are entitled to temporary injunctive relief.”

Lawyers for the voters contended the state was required to get pre-approval for rules changes under the federal Voting Rights Act. The law mandates that Texas and other jurisdictions subject to the act get pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department or a special three-judge panel to alter electoral procedures.

“There is no statutory authority for this purge,” civil rights lawyer David Richards, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a phone interview while waiting for the judge to rule.


Opponents of the Texas purge are most concerned by efforts to remove voters who are weak matches to the master death list, Buck Wood, a lawyer for the voters suing in Austin, said after yesterday’s hearing.

When all nine Social Security numbers, the last name and birth date are the same on the two lists, that is considered a strong match, Wood said. Comparing only a birth date and the last four digits of a Social Security number would make for a weak match, he said.

When voters get these notices, they ask, “What the hell is going on?” Wood said.

Erika Kane, a lawyer with the Texas Attorney General’s office, asked the judge if the state would have to retract prior e-mails.

“How do we address this concern without causing mass confusion to the public?” she asked.

“I’m not telling you to pull down what’s already gone out,” Kulak said. He said he would order there be no further instruction to pull voters from the rolls based on weak matches.

He also barred the secretary of state from ordering county officials to remove from the rolls any voters who failed to “timely comply” with the notices sent out based on non- responses to weak matches.

The case is Moore v. Morton, D-1-6N-12-002923, District Court, Travis County, Texas (Austin).

That weak match really is weak. Last four digits of the SSN plus birth date? No wonder there was such a high false positive rate. Perhaps some clearer instructions from the SOS in the future about how to appropriately use these lists would help avoid any repeats of this little drama.

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One Response to “Dead voter” purge finally laid to rest

  1. Brad M. says:

    I am genuinely surprised Sumners didn’t blame Obama’s socialism for the screw up.

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