Thursday, September 13, 2012

Houston, we have a problem

Deep in the heart of Texas, Austin wants Houston (and the rest of the state)  to comply with a new state law.  Problem is, Austin is demanding Houston (and the rest of the state, not that anyone else is complaining)  violate Federal law.

The Texas Secretary of State's office, in a strongly worded letter Wednesday, said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners likely is violating the law and jeopardizing the integrity of the Nov. 6 election in deciding not to purge presumed-dead voters from the rolls before the vote.
The number of voters affected is 9000 in Harris County, almost 73,000 statewide (or 77,000, depending on who you ask.  See the link further below).  The practice of sending out notices about voter eligibility is known as "caging," and it's not necessarily illegal or improper; except when it is:

 a) In general
In the administration of voter registration for elections for Federal office, each State shall -
(1) ensure that any eligible applicant is registered to vote in an election -
(3) provide that the name of a registrant may not be removed from the official list of eligible voters except -
(A) at the request of the registrant;
(B) as provided by State law, by reason of criminal conviction or mental incapacity; or
(C) as provided under paragraph (4);
(4) conduct a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters by reason of -
(A) the death of the registrant....
(b) Confirmation of voter registration Any State program or activity to protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring the maintenance of an accurate and current voter registration roll for elections for Federal office- (1) shall be uniform, nondiscriminatory, and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973 et seq.); and
(2) shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person's failure to vote, except that nothing in this paragraph may be construed to prohibit a State from using the procedures described in subsections (c) and (d) of this section to remove an individual from the official list of eligible voters if the individual - (A) has not either notified the applicable registrar (in person or in writing) or responded during the period described in subparagraph (B) to the notice sent by the applicable registrar; and then (B) has not voted or appeared to vote in 2 or more consecutive general elections for Federal office.
(c) Voter removal programs
....(2)(A) A State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.
(B) Subparagraph (A) shall not be construed to preclude -
(i) the removal of names from official lists of voters on a basis described in paragraph (3)(A) or (B) or (4)(A) of subsection (a) of this section....

Emphasis added.

That can be a bit much to deciper (Federal law is not written to be easily deciphered!), but the upshot is this:  Texas cannot remove voters from the rolls on the grounds the voter is dead without sending out a notice to said voter, getting no response, and then waiting to see if the voter has failed to vote in 2 or more consecutive general Federal Elections.

In other words, Texas can't purge the rolls on these notices until after November, 2014, at the earliest. But it is clear the State of Texas isn't going to wait that long:

A match is strong if the last name, date of birth and all nine Social Security numbers are identical. A weak match occurs when two records have either the same nine digit Social Security number and same date of birth, or the last four Social Security numbers, the same birth date and one matching name component. A voter's registration will be canceled automatically if the match is strong, but not if the match is weak, according to the Travis County voter registrar.
 An automatic purge of voters that prevented them from voting in the November Federal Election would be a violation of Federal law.  All I'm wondering now is whether anybody is going to muster a suit over this before November.  Granted, the story only hit the press yesterday.  But this has been going on long enough that Harris County has already tried it, declined to continue it, and received a warning from the Texas Secretary of State about it.

Time's a wastin'.

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