Some 600,000 names represent Travis County’s voting roll, and who’s on the list is the target of the latest round of election inspection. Passed virtually unanimously during the 82nd Texas Legislature in 2011, HB 174 requires the state to verify its voter rolls against the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. “In addition to comparing against the information submitted by local officials concerning deceased persons, the Secretary of State must also obtain death information quarterly from the United States Social Security Administration and compare against this information as well,” states the bill’s summary. As a result, some voters have received letters saying some combination of their name and date of birth potentially match someone listed by the federal government as deceased, giving them 30 days to contact the county and avoid having their registration canceled.
“We’ve sent out 2,200 letters,” said Travis County Voter Registration Director Dee Lopez. “We’ve received about 125 responses, either in person or by phone, and we’ve taken people off the list,” Lopez says the 2,000-odd voters who have yet to respond haven’t necessarily been laid to rest. “We live in a high-mobile society,” said Lopez. “It tells us that the voter may have moved and never received the letter. It tells us that the voter may have received the letter and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to deal with it later,’ like many of us do. Or it could be just the fact that they have moved from Travis County entirely.”
A simple phone call to the number on the letter and verbal confirmation is all that’s required as “proof of life.” So what prevents someone who is actually dead from being on the rolls? Texas has long relied on information from local and county offices, as well as the state Bureau of Vital Statistics, which is operated under the Department of State Health Services and provides regular updates on those who become deceased. Like the data received from the Social Security Administration, matches are organized into “weak” and “strong” matches. A weak match may match a registered voter to a deceased person through a combination of names and date of birth. Typically, a notice of examination is then sent and the voter given 30 days to respond.