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State Aggressively Purging Voter Registration Files

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HOUSTON (AP) – More than 1.5 million Texans could be removed from the state’s list of registered voters if they fail to vote or update their records in consecutive federal elections under an aggressive policy to keep files current.

One in 10 voters has already had their registration suspended under the scheme, and for people under 30, the number doubles to one in five, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

Federal law requires states to keep up-to-date voter records. The Chronicle reports that Texas relies on outdated computer programs and faulty methods to do this, resulting in errors. In fact, 21 percent of voters who received letters saying they would be purged from the rolls were able to prove their validity, according to the newspaper’s analysis of U.S. Election Assistance Commission data.

In some counties, the problems are especially severe. For example, in Collin County, 70 percent of the letters were sent to people who were able to prove their right to vote; in Galveston County, about 37 percent of those who received the letters were valid voters and in Bexar County, home to San Antonio, 40 percent were mistakes.

The Secretary of State’s office in Texas said voters are automatically sent cancellation notices when there is a “strong match” between a new registration and an existing voter, including the same full name, Social Security number or date of birth. Every year, though, thousands of voters get cancellation notices because they share the same name as someone who has died, been convicted of a crime or claimed to be a non-citizen.

It costs 25 cents to register a voter, and about 40 cents to make one invalid.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, said in an email that these form letters are generated by county election offices and “therefore may be more subject to error.”

For example, in Harris County, home to Houston, more than 100,000 registered voters share the same name with at least one other voter. Among Hispanics, that is even more common, said Sylvia Garcia, a former Harris County commissioner, who shares her name with 35 other county voters and had her own registration wrongly suspended. In her case, that occurred because officials questioned her P.O. Box address but she failed to receive the letter asking for verification.

Walter Pinkston, another Harris County voter, received a letter asking his family to confirm his death, and warning he would be removed from the rolls. He, of course, is alive, but received the letter because he shared the same first, middle and last name as someone who died in Colorado.

“That seems like a very flimsy set of facts and reasoning to go about challenging my right to vote,” Pinkston told the Chronicle. “And in my opinion, that’s a very flimsy set of circumstances to spend Harris County taxpayers’ money to investigate the matter, even if it’s only a few dollars in postage and associated costs.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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