Dia De Los Muertos & Elections

It must be awkward when you’ve declared someone dead and then they not only show up alive, they show up with lawyers.


A Texas judge initially granted an injunction temporarily halting officials’ plans to purge 77,000 “presumably dead voters” from the rolls, finding (this is my interpretation, anyway) that the four plaintiffs had successfully rebutted that presumption by being alive. The Texas Secretary of State tried to identify dead voters (or former voters) by cross-referencing the state’s lists with the U.S. Social Security Administration’s master death list. (This is a list of people who have already died, not the President’s list of people he’s thinking about killing.) At least one county registrar (Don Sumners of Harris County) refused to comply with instructions to delete thousands of names, based on his belief that the Social Security database is unreliable and/or that other mistakes were made.

He apparently believed this because, after getting notices informing them that they would not be allowed to vote, hundreds of the presumably dead contacted him to complain.

The state responded to Sumners’ information calmly and rationally by changing its plans. What? No it didn’t, it cut off Harris County’s election funds in an effort to force it to purge the dead voters, whether the dead voters liked it or not. After some haggling, Sumners said he would purge voters whose families confirmed their deaths before the election, and the state agreed to restore funding (essentially backing down).

The four not-dead plaintiffs argue that there is no state-law authority for the purge and that because Texas has a history of voting-rights violations (not against the undead, but still), it was required by the federal Voting Rights Act to get pre-approval for the relevant rule change.

Legal battles involving electoral issues are going on in at least seven states, and surprisingly, according to a law professor quoted by Businessweek, support for one side or another “often falls along party lines.” Not to take sides here, but I did note the other day that after a months-long effort in Florida to weed out falsely registered voters, exactly one such person had been found and charged, a Canadian (who was registered as an independent).

The lawsuit filed by Texas voters who had been told they were “potentially deceased” has been settled.  The agreement appears to be a victory for the four not-dead voters, who the state will now presume to be alive.

Under the previous rules, voters were identified as “potentially deceased” if there was at least a “weak match” (such as a birth date plus a partial Social Security number) between their information and the federal death records the state was consulting. The weakly matched dead made up 68,000 of the 80,000 people who received a letter from voting officials telling them they would be removed from the rolls if they didn’t speak up. Under the settlement, the burden shifts to officials to prove those people are really dead; the remainder (“strong matches”), who are much more likely to be dead, will still have to prove otherwise if they can.

“Today’s order [approving the settlement] is another step toward improving the integrity of the election system,” said Greg Abbott, who had unsuccessfully tried to defend the state’s original plan. I think it’s actually the same step, but 85% smaller.