No law prevents localities from having more registered voters than voting-age residents, and eight Texas counties do.
Now a vote-watch group accuses the counties of violating the National Voting Rights Act by failing to purge dead, duplicate and ineligible voters.
“We are deeply concerned (that) voter rolls contain substantial numbers of ineligible voters,” True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht stated in a letter to the eight Texas counties.
The counties — Loving, Brooks, McMullen, Roberts, Irion, Jim Hogg, Culberson and Polk — list a combined 52,298 registered voters. But the latest U.S. Census data show only 49,457 voting-age residents in those counties.
County officials told Watchdog.org they are reviewing their voter lists in response to TTV’s threat of legal action.
Mary Slavin, deputy clerk of rural Roberts County, said she was perplexed by the findings. “We’re a small county. When someone dies, I know it as quick as the family knows, and remove that person (from the voter rolls) as soon as I can,” she said.
TTV spokesman Logan Churchwell said some of the bloating of voter rolls could be due to simple clerical errors. “Duplicate registrations occur when there are slight differences in names — such as ‘McDougle’ versus ‘Mc Dougle,’” he noted.
Churchwell also blames “imperfect” federal law for inflating voter rolls. For example, voters who skip two election cycles over four years remain on active status, as long as verification letters sent by election offices do not bounce back. The law assumes the registration is still valid, without positive verification. Churchwell said the recent nullification of Texas’ photo ID law opens the door for mischief on Election Day.
True the Vote has given the counties 90 days to produce correct registration data or face legal action.
The Democratic Party, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other “progressive” groups have countered TTV’s efforts.
“NVRA does not require the number of registered voters in a county to be below a specific threshold,” the groups note.
But True the Vote says where there’s smoke, fire is nearby. A 2012 court challenge by TTV prompted Indiana’s legislature to pass tighter list maintenance laws.
Except for Polk County near Houston, the other seven Texas counties identified by True the Vote have stagnant or declining populations.
Loving County, the smallest county in the United States, lists 106 registered voters, but just 69 voting-age residents. That’s a 154 percent registration rate, the highest in the state, according to TTV figures.
Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act requires every county to publicly disclose “all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters.”
“Counties need to adopt the idea that they own their own data,” Churchwell said. “If there’s better data (than TTV has), then bring it.”
The Texas Secretary of State’s office, which was conducting a training session for county election officials this week in Austin, declined to comment.
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected].