Thousands of Eligible Voters Targeted for Removal from Texas Voter Rolls

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Thousands of eligible voters are likely to be kicked off the voter rolls by the the Lone Star State through no fault of their own, as Texas continues to utilize faulty procedures, inaccurate databases, and outdated computer programs to purge its voter lists, the Houston Chronicle reported on Sunday:

“More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 — often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data.”

County election offices reportedly utilize an unreliable “matching” method to identify voters to target for removal from the rolls, where voter registration records are matched to lists of individuals who are ineligible to vote. Such lists include deceased persons, persons with disqualifying criminal convictions, and voters who claimed to be non-citizens to avoid jury duty. To be targeted for removal, all that may be required is that you share a last name and birthdate with someone who has died or been convicted of a crime. This matching method yields predictable errors, and it has already led to legitimate voters being targeted for removal from the voter rolls.

Registration records that are matched to ineligible persons are placed on the list of “suspended voters.” Once on the list of suspended voters, voters are purged from the voter rolls if they don't vote or update their information for two consecutive federal elections. Ten percent of Texas voters' registration is currently “suspended”, including 20 percent of voters under 30.The Houston Chronicle again:

“In Harris County alone, more than 100,000 voters share their name with at least one other voter. The phenomenon is even more common among Hispanics — a fact that worries voter participation activists like Garcia, the former county commissioner, who shares her name with 35 other county voters.

Statewide, 21 percent of the people who received purge letters later proved they were valid voters, compared with 16 percent in Harris County, according to a Chronicle analysis of the latest U.S. Election Assistance Commission data. Other counties had higher percentages: 37 percent of voters who received removal letters in Galveston County were valid voters, 40 percent in Bexar County and 70 percent in Collin County.”

While removing duplicates and keeping voter rolls up-to-date is both reasonable and legally necessary, our current procedure for purging the rolls doesn't do enough to protect legitimate voters. It also seems that the current procedure may rely too much on the discretion of elected officials to target registrants for removal and initiate the removal process.

As Harris County learned in its experience with Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Suppressor Paul Bettencourt, who quit his job one month after winning a third term in office in the face of a lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party for violation of voter registration laws, it may not be a good idea to rely firmly on staunch partisans to protect everyone's right to vote. Quittencourt, who lied to the Texas House Elections Committee about “381 ironclad” cases of of voter fraud that turned out not to be so ironclad during Voter ID hearings, rejected thousands of voter registration applications based on technicalities. He denied applications that provided Social Security numbers in lieu of license numbers – but failed to check the box that says they lack a license. Quittencourt also rejected voter registration applications from voters who had recently moved because his office was using outdated property records, and he created a massive backlog of voter registration cards that prevented voters who had registered legally from casting regular ballots in 2008.

Quittencourt's successor, Lying Leo Velasquez, was also sued by the Texas Democratic Party for denying valid voter registrations, failing to register voters because of an overly technical review of registration applications, releasing voter registration data under different terms to different groups, disclosing certain voting procedures only insofar as disclosure benefited his political allies, failing to secure pre-clearance for changes in voting requirements, and violating an agreement the Texas Democratic Party had negotiated after Quittencourt prevented voters from casting regular ballots.

It's clear, with hacks like Quittencourt and Lying Leo Velasquez running elections, that we need to ensure voter purges are conducted in a way that protects legitimate voters from incompetence and partisan political machinations. If legislators are aware of problems with present procedures for purging voter rolls, and they maintain the current system through the next session, I may begin to wonder if some of the folks at the pink dome possess a cavalier disregard for voting rights.

It's worth considering what could be done, so please consider this report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law: Voter Purges

You can verify you are still eligible to vote at the Texas Secretary of State Website.

“This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.” – Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1957

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  1. Analysis and Strategy
    The SDEC recently passed a rule to shroud discussion of “strategy” in secrecy. And, well it should, lest more Democrats figure out we don't have any. There is no better example of that than the GOP “War on Voting”. This began in Houston in 2000, when Jim Baker flew to the relief of George W. Bush in Florida. It has proceeded steadily since then most recently, with the King Street Patriots going national after their “roll-out” in Houston in 2010.

    At no point, have the Speaker's Claque or Local Chapters of the DCCC subjected the GOP War on Voting to iterations of Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action (OODA Loop). That would be a strategic response, rather than just the usual self-congratulation and eternal waiting for the Hispanic vote.

    Rather, the SDEC has complained and litigated reflexively on the assumption that GOP vote-suppression is a matter of racial bias best countered with 60's vintage civil rights laws applied to ex-Confederate states.

    Actually, the partisan divide over voting rights goes back to the earliest days of the republic or, if you listen to the Supreme Court of the United States, to the Magna Carta. It is older and broader than Old Jim Crow, as they are finding out in Wisconsin today.

    Fortunately, Lise Olsen of the Houston Chronicle is not just an “investigative reporter” but — something I have never heard of before — an analytical reporter. Her work on voter registration in Texas and Harris County has made effective and unprecedented use of the newspaper's skill with Freedom of Information requests and tools for visualization of data.

    So, BOR has begun to cite her work and, now, we have an observation from which to begin the strategic process of orientation, decision, and action.

    Orientation

    Texas Democrats should start with Article VI of the Texas Constitution: Suffrage. It is a quaint old term, but the only bright light in our state's history of racial and economic discrimination. In fact, Texas enfranchised women even before the rest of the US and Deep South. Moreover, we now only disenfranchise minors, felons, and mentally incapacitated “wards” of their parents or the state. We could probably enfranchise dual-citizens in municipal elections conducted under Home Rule charters — a powerful way to ensure that expatriate Texans and foreign nationals here enjoy the universally inalienable rights Democrats trace back to our charter: the Declaration of Independence, not the feudal Magna Carta.

    Yes, these matters are that fundamental and universal. If we expect to have a counter-strategy we should probably call it “Go Deep and Wide”.

    What the GOP has done is exploit our party's paramount interest in protecting incumbent legislators, even though, we do not have enough of them to pass good or block bad legislation. Their most powerful ordnance is pervasive and comprehensive — mostly economic — bias in the whole process of voter registration and qualification set out in the Texas Election Code. Take overt racial bias out of the Code, as Democrats did before 2002, and you still have effective bias against poor, immobile aged, and mobile young voters regardless of race! In other words, you still have a Code optimized in favor of “white home-owners” — a bleached pale version of “Jim Crow”, nearly as effective as ever.

    As it happens SDEC campaign doctrine or just habit — racially “segmented” marketing, “likely voter” mobilization, and “targeted” races — wraps neatly around that state election law. It is consistent with operating the party as a professional and racial patronage-chain, even without much patronage. So, the doctrine — “the way we've always done it!” supports campaign consultants' aversion to voter registration drives and ballot-by-mail programs.

    Those are strategic vulnerabilities the GOP recognizes and exploits. But, don't tell anyone: It's hush-hush.        

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