The Texas attorney general and secretary of state agreed Wednesday to lift a deadline for purging as many as 68,000 people from the voting rolls because a federal database shows they are possibly deceased, said attorneys for four living voters who made the list.
Voting registrars will continue to purge the names of approximately 13,000 voters who are confirmed dead, but not those whom the state only suspects might be deceased and cannot reach by mail, said a statement released by civil rights attorneys Buck Wood and Dave Richards. The agreement comes a day before a court was scheduled to hear arguments to stop the purge, which the secretary of state wanted done in time for November's elections.
"We are pleased to put this matter behind us and move forward in this process," said Hope Andrade, the Texas secretary of state, who noted registrars must still go through the list to determine if someone is dead, but may take as much time as they need.
The attorney general's office said in a statement that the agreement is "another step toward improving the integrity of the election system."
The four voters who brought the lawsuit received letters from a county registrar asking them to confirm they were not dead. The four argued that the state should not require them to prove they are alive. The secretary of state's office, which ordered the new procedures, agreed Wednesday to drop that requirement.
"This agreement clarifies the procedures to be used to make our voter rolls more accurate," said Wood. Once the secretary of state sends out the new procedures, the two sides agreed to drop the case.
Voting registrars in Dallas and Houston also opposed the purge. State elections officials want to require counties to check voter rolls against the Social Security Administration's death index to make sure deceased voters are removed from the rolls. Some of those names can be confirmed to death records with an exact match of name, birth date and social security number, but others have only partial matches.
Texas has done similar purges in the past, relying on the state's Vital Statistics Unit. The new wrinkle was using the federal data, which is known to have errors. That change was approved by state lawmakers in 2011.
Some counties and Democrats worried the process would disenfranchise voters. The Texas secretary of state's office argued that the Legislature passed the new law overwhelmingly and that voters won't be turned away on Election Day if they don't respond to the letter.
The secretary of state threatened to cut off election funding to counties that did not comply with the requirement.