Texas has some of the harshest voter ID laws in the country, and it doesn’t exactly make things easy for folks wanting to register.
Now, with midterms fast approaching, a new report warns the state also is among the most aggressive about dropping voters from its rolls — possibly even some who shouldn’t be removed.
Voter purges are designed to eliminate registrations of people who have died or relocated, lessening the potential for fraud. But a report by the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice warns those efforts also could keep legitimate voters from participating in the midterms.
“Some states deleted more voters’ names than they had in the past, increasing the chance that eligible voters find themselves missing from the rolls on Election Day,” said Myrna Pérez, head of the center’s voting rights and elections project. “We did not find one state that was doing enough to protect against bad purges.”
Nationally, between the federal elections of 2014 and 2016, almost 4 million more names were purged from the rolls than between 2006 and 2008, according to the report. In Texas alone, that increase was around 363,000 names.
The likelihood of people being wrongly removed rises when states are too lax with their data comparisons, the report warns.
In some cases, election authorities used “weak” matches to check voters against the Social Security Administration’s list of deceased Americans, according to the center. Such matches might only check the last four digits of a Social Security number rather than all nine, for example.
More than 68,000 of the 80,000 voters identified as possibly dead in a Texas purge were classified as weak matches in one 2012 analysis. The report cites the example of a living Air Force vet named James Harris Jr. who was flagged for removal because some of his information matched a deceased Arkansas resident.
The Texas secretary of state, which oversees voting, disputes the Brennan Center’s claim. Its examples are the result of local elections officials’ data checks, not the state’s, according to spokesman Sam Taylor. The state can only unilaterally cancel strong matches of deceased voters. Everything else is handled at the county level.
“Unless there’s a strong match for deceased people, our agency can’t unilaterally cull anyone from the rolls,” Taylor said.
In contrast to Ohio and Georgia, Texas has no automatic purge of people who don’t vote, Taylor added. Moving and not confirming one’s new address with the secretary of state will result in a person being placed on a “suspense list.” But, even then, they aren’t removed from the rolls unless they don’t vote again for the next four years.
Regardless of whether the weak matches are the result of state or local action, the Brennan Center warns the risks are likely to grow.
Under President Trump, the Justice Department has backed away from monitoring for overly aggressive purges. Indeed, it’s sent inquiry letters to election officials that voting-rights advocates worry may be precursors to lawsuits prompting states to be more aggressive.
What’s more, conservative activist groups have sued state and local jurisdictions in a bid to force them into purges. Last year, the Public Interest Legal Foundation announced it had brought nine suits in six states alleging lax oversight of voter rolls.
Ultimately, the Brennan Center recommends reforms such as automatic voter registration as a means to take bad data, sloppy handling and politics out of the process.
“It’s important to keep voter lists up-to-date and accurate,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel in the center’s Democracy Program. “But any effort must at the very minimum be guided by the safeguards outlined under federal law.”
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.