Texas Seeks to Unblock Purge of Deceased From Voter Rolls

Texas asked a state judge to dissolve a temporary court order blocking a purge of as many as 77,000 “possibly dead” people from voter rosters in one of several courtroom battles leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

“Texas has long had in place statutes that mandate a voter’s registration should be canceled by a county registrar when it is determined that a voter is deceased,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a filing yesterday in state court in Austin. “This matter concerns the integrity of voter registration in Texas.”

Four voters sued Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade on Sept. 19 to block implementation of a voter-verification campaign that they said would remove them and possibly thousands of other still-living Texans from voter lists before the November presidential election.

Judge Tim Sulak blocked Andrade from directing county voter registrars to carry out the voter purge the same day the lawsuit was filed.

Voter registrars in Dallas County and Harris County, which includes Houston, had balked at completing the purge. Harris County Voter Registrar Don Sumners said he was concerned the state’s dead-voter list was inaccurate and that hundreds of voters contacted his office to refute reports of their deaths after getting notices their registrations would be canceled.

The lawsuit is among multiple court battles over voting rules, particularly in swing states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns see the possibility of victory.

Pennsylvania Suit

In Pennsylvania this week, the state Supreme Court set aside for further review a ruling allowing the state to enforce a law requiring voters to have photo identification, which the American Civil Liberties Union has argued was aimed at keeping likely Democratic voters away from the polls. The lower court set a hearing on the review for Sept. 25.

Voter cases are also under way in Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Lawsuits filed over Florida voting rules include at least two challenging a law ostensibly designed to purge noncitizens from voter lists, which opponents say would disenfranchise new citizens as well.

A federal judge last month blocked enforcement of a new Florida law restricting voter-registration activities. A different federal judge in Florida this week heard arguments challenging the state’s 2011 law cutting back early voting days as biased against blacks.

30 Days

The Texas voters who sued have no right to challenge the state simply because they were notified that their voter registrations would be canceled within 30 days if they didn’t prove they were alive, Abbott said in yesterday’s filing.

“Each voter who receives such a notice is simply asked to provide the relevant county registrar with information demonstrating the voter remains eligible to vote,” Abbott said. “This entire suit should be dismissed.”

In the alternative, Abbott asked Sulak to dissolve his restraining order and allow county registrars to continue investigating voters who are so-called “weak” matches with the U.S. Social Security Administration’s master death list. Voters aren’t challenging removal of “strong” matches between election rosters and the national database, only weak ones that lack a complete match between a voter’s full name, birthday and a nine-digit Social Security number.

Voters’ Challenge

Abbott also said the state court judge lacked authority to preside over the voters’ challenge under the U.S. Voting Rights Act because only federal courts may oversee such matters. The state initially filed a notice of its intent to move the lawsuit to federal court early yesterday, and later withdrew that notice, Abbott said in the filing.

“The voters clearly have standing to sue,” David Richards, the voters’ lawyer, said in a phone interview. “If you follow the state’s logic, then no one would have standing to ever do anything.”

Richards said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state courts can hear challenges under the Voting Rights Act.

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

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