'Potentially' Dead Voters Lawsuit Settled in Texas

     AUSTIN (CN) - A lawsuit filed by four living voters who were deemed "potentially" dead by Texas authorities, and therefore faced imminent removal from state voting rolls, has been dropped, according to the state attorney general's office.
     The plaintiffs sued Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade in Travis County Court on September 19, claiming they received notices from county voting registrars under her direction that said "that they were 'potentially deceased' and that their voter registration was subject to 'cancellation'" unless they provided proof they were alive within 30 days.
     In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege "the secretary has adopted a rule in which she has determined who is dead or potentially dead. The rule has two prongs, 'Strong Matches' and 'Weak Matches.' Thousands of Texans who are alive and kicking have been classified as potentially dead by the secretary under the Weak Match category."
     Sickness, travel or changes of address may prevent living people from getting their own death notice and responding, the plaintiffs said.
     "Once purged, the voter will have to re-register to vote again. The registration, however, will not be effective for 30 days, which may cause the voter to be ineligible to vote in the upcoming general election."
     First reported by the Austin American-Statesman, the settlement results in the burden of proof shifting from voters to Texas' county voter registrars, who will have to investigate each "weak match" to confirm that the voter is dead before they are removed from voting rolls.
     On Wednesday, Andrade's office directed county voting officials that they "are expected to conduct an independent review of 'weak' matches to determine whether a voter is appropriately on the voter rolls."
     The new directive provides no time limit for completing verifications, simply stating they are to be conducted as quickly as possible, the Statesman reported.
     In a written statement, Andrade said the settlement is a minimal change in procedures that were intended to comply with SB1046 and HB 174, which ordered her to get quarterly reports from the Social Security Administration and use the supposedly dead people on the lists to purge Texas' voting rolls.
     "This process has never precluded counties from taking the time local officials deem necessary to confirm a voter's status," Andrade said.
     "We are pleased to put this matter behind us and move forward in this process."
     One day after the suit was filed, Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak issued a temporary restraining order that halted the purging of voters who failed to respond to the letters. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott later opposed the ruling. The settlement renders a Thursday hearing on the restraining order being made permanent as moot, the Statesman reports.
     The settlement does not change procedures from the removal of "strong matches" where voter names, birth dates and complete Social Security numbers match death records. "Today's order is another step toward improving the integrity of the election system," Abbott said after the settlement was reached. "The order means dead voters can and should be deleted from the rolls, and allows for the removal of dead voters to continue."