The running dispute over presumed-dead voters on Harris County rolls was substantially resolved Wednesday between the Texas Secretary of State’s office and Harris County’s tax registrar just hours before a Travis County judge issued an order that temporarily prevents the removal of names from registration lists statewide. About 9,000 Harris County voters got letters this month from the office of Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners, who also serves as the voter registrar, stating that records suggested that they are deceased and that they must act within 30 days to stay on the rolls. The local names are among more than 70,000 on a statewide list generated by the secretary of state using the Social Security Administration’s master death file as required by state law. The federal agency’s compilation has been determined as sometimes incorrect.
Last week, the state cut off Harris County’s voter registration funds after learning that Sumners refused to remove voters who appeared on the secretary of state’s list until after the Nov. 6 election. He delayed the purge after hundreds of very-much-alive voters contacted his office. The state provided two lists. Sumners’ office acted on the larger one, which had 9,000 names considered “weak” matches to the death records, but neglected, at first, to notify 1,000 others considered “strong” matches. In a deal brokered by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the secretary of state’s office agreed to restore access to roughly $700,000 if Sumners sends letters to those on the “strong” list.
On Wednesday, the Secretary of State’s office said that because Sumners has “agreed to cancel the registrations of persons who have been confirmed as deceased” on both lists, Harris County was compliant with state law and no longer subject to the financial sanction. “We’ve all got an obligation to maintain clean voter registration lists and that’s what we are working to do,” said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state.