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Zombie Voters and Honesty in Politics

Chris Eudaily
Texas Public Radio

Dead voter letters are one way that Texas scrubs its voter registration rolls. Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and voter registrar Don Sumners says he’s not going along with the Texas plan to scrub the voter rolls, and the state says he is violating the law. Gardner Selby with Politifact Texas talks about how they check statements made by politicians.

Suppressing the Vote? Or Just Making Sure You're OK?

You may have gotten a letter recently from your county elections administrator wanting to know if you are dead and if you plan on voting in the upcoming presidential election. Residents who receive a dead voter letter will have 30 days to send the form back in.

However, in an obscure example of just how messy the process is, should they fail to return the letter, they will still be able to vote in the Nov. 6 elections.

It’s part of a Texas secretary of state’s office effort to scrub the voter files of dead citizens – but an alarming number of letters are reaching living voters. Some are wondering if this is part of an orchestrated effort to suppress the vote.

The Texas secretary of state’s office says that’s not so – they are just following the law.

Credit State of Texas

Rich Parsons - Spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office:

"So we are required now, under that legislation (HB 174), to access the social security administration's death master file to use in identifying deceased or possibly deceased  registered voters in Texas. It is exactly the same process that has been in place for many years, the only new element is integrating the death master file into this process."

"Under the national voter registration act, Texas is required to implement and maintain a systematic program that makes reasonable efforts to maintain that clean and accurate voter registration list. The program in place is the program that has been in place for decades."

The process matches the death master file from the Social Security Administration with the voter registration list - this year there were about 77,000 matches - and the match notifications are sent to the counties. The counties then review them and must verify their status - in this case send them a letter.

"If no action on a letter is taken, then the voter registration would be cancelled. if that person is not deceased and they go to vote, then their registration would immediately be reinstated."

Don Sumners - Harris Tax Assessor-Collector and voter registrar:

Sumners says he’s not going along with the Texas plan to scrub the voter rolls. Sumners announced he would not purge any of the contested names from the voter roll, at least until after the election. The Texas Secretary of State’s office says Sumners is violating the law.

"I did mail the letters. I just made the decision that I'm not going to remove anybody that doesn't respond from the voter roll before the presidential election because I don't think the database we received from the Secretary of State is very reliable in terms of matching up the potential deceased voters... We can afford to wait until after the election before we start taking people off."

"I know that since most of these potential deceased persons are elderly that it's going to be confusing for them, and it's not going to be something that the election judge wants to deal with in a presidential election."


Politifact: How Long Can a Politician's Nose Get?

During the election season it becomes a confusing world of he-said/she-said political finger pointing. How do we know whose claims to believe? Everyday voters don’t have time to run down the facts on our own and that’s where a new breed of journalists step in – the fact checkers. They test the claims, search the sources and rate the truth. But are fact checkers really the final word?

Gardner Selby - Politifact Texas at the Austin American Statesman:

"We've done seven fact checks on Mayor Castro and one of them was the clam he made in his keynote address that Mitt Romney told university students in Ohio that to start a business, you should borrow money from your parents if you have to. This was something that Romney said at a stop in a place called Otterbein University earlier this year. Our fact check involved finding news accounts of that stop, and then transcribing his remarks from a YouTube video that was made by a reporter from an Ohio newspaper that day in verifying that the remark was made and it was made in context."

"We don't judge what people could've said or would've said, we just judge what they say. We do give people opportunities to clarify, correct, backtrack, and things along those lines."

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi