AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) - One day earlier than expected, four plaintiffs named in the lawsuit which sought to stop the purging of names of voters who failed to respond to the Texas Secretary of State that they were alive have reached an agreement with the Office of the Attorney General.
The settlement announced late Wednesday says that none of the 81,000 voters' names in question will be purged from voter rolls because of failure of those persons to respond to "potential deceased" letters that were mailed to their last known addresses. They were flagged by the Social Security Administration as possibly deceased.
Plaintiffs were named as Michael L. Moore, James E. Young, Robert E. Brown, Jr., and Andrew Dylan Wood.
Instead, the agreement requires that AG Gregg Abbott's office must immediately send out a revised statement to county registrars about the new process. They will be instructed that no name is to be removed from the county voter lists unless the registrars have "information confirming" that a voter "is actually deceased."
The agreement mandates that the county registrars must continue to investigate "weak" matches of information about a person who may or may not deceased until after the election day to ensure accuracy of the voter rolls.
The case was set to go before the 261st Judicial District Court on Thursday in Travis County.
Status of letters, responses
People living in traditionally black Harris County neighborhoods in Houston received a disproportionate share of letters advising them that they were in danger of having their voter registration canceled because they were presumed dead, according to a newspaper analysis.
The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that its analysis of 9,000 notifications showed about a third coming from one county commission district established more than two decades ago as a minority opportunity district.
Widespread complaints about attempts to purge the rolls of deceased voters led Harris County to call off any action before the Nov. 6 election. County officials say 32 percent of the voters who received the notices have confirmed they are alive. As of Oct. 1, 7 percent of those listed as possibly dead were confirmed as such.
Don Sumners, the county's tax assessor collector and voter registrar who said the county would not remove anyone before the election, said the information used to form the lists was race neutral. He suggested the disproportionate impact could have more to do with aging voters in historically black neighborhoods.
A September 2011 Texas law required the secretary of state to compare Social Security death data with voter records in an attempt to clean rolls of anyone deceased. Voters would be notified and asked to provide proof that they were alive.
Last month, a Texas judge temporarily blocked the state from ordering counties to remove names of voters the government thinks may be dead. Several living voters who received the letters elsewhere in Texas sued the state. The state is fighting that judge's decision.
The newspaper's analysis found that in Harris County nearly 2,900, or 32 percent, of the letters went to addresses in county commission Precinct 1, more than any of the other three districts.
E. Franco Lee, that precinct's commissioner and the only African-American on the commission, said he intended to ask the Harris County Attorney's Office and federal prosecutors to look at the situation.
"The recent mistakes let me know that we need a neutral party to look into the matter," he said. "And that's the U.S. Department of Justice."
Blacks represent 19 percent of the voting-age population in Harris County, according to U.S. census estimates.
The state sent two lists of voters who might be deceased to counties, including "strong" and "weak" matches. The counties were expected to determine who was sent letters. Harris County sent letters to all 9,000 names on the "weak" list.
Challenge to purging names
State elections officials said a state law passed last year requires counties to check voting rolls against the federal agency's list, which is known to have errors. That resulted in thousands of people receiving letters instructing them to confirm they're alive.
A state district judge last month temporarily barred the state from enforcing the law.
Abbott's office on Sept. 22 asked for that order to be dissolved.
Wednesday's settlement decides the process which county voter registrars are to follow leading up to the Nov. 6 General Election to ensure a seamless and consistent election process in all regions of Texas.
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