Texas asks thousands of voters to verify that they aren’t dead

David Barer / Cox Newspapers /

Published Sep 14, 2012 at 05:00AM

AUSTIN, Texas — Two months before the presidential election, thousands of registered Texas voters are receiving letters asking them to verify they are not dead.

The nearly 77,000 letters, called notices of examination, were sent out by election officials to comply with a 2011 law passed by the Legislature requiring the secretary of state’s office to cross-reference the voter rolls with the Social Security Administration’s enormous death master file to determine if a voter could be deceased.

The Secretary of State’s Office intended to send the letters of examination sooner, but the redistricting battle held up the process.

“The primary was delayed, as were several deadlines related to the primary election,” said Rich Parsons, director of communications for the Secretary of State’s Office. “That prohibited us from running the process. This was the first window of opportunity we have had to do this.”

Keeping the voter registration roll up to date is a routine process, but the use of the death file, which has about 89 million records, has resulted in a larger-than-usual number of letters being sent out, according to Tina Morton, Travis County’s tax assessor-collector and voter registrar.

“I don’t know if we have ever sent out 2,200 letters (in Travis County) in the past at the same time,” Morton said.

Texans receiving a letter have had either a strong or weak match between their voter registration information and the data in the death file. Because of the size of the death file, the Social Security Administration does not guarantee its accuracy.

A match is strong if the last name, date of birth and all nine Social Security numbers are identical. A weak match occurs when two records have either the same nine digit Social Security number and same date of birth, or the last four Social Security numbers, the same birth date and one matching name component. A voter’s registration will be canceled automatically if the match is strong, but not if the match is weak, according to the Travis County voter registrar.

Voters have 30 days to complete and return the letters, but counties are encouraging people to call and report their eligibility by phone.

In Harris County, the voter registrar sent out more than 9,000 letters, but, after receiving complaints from voters, decided to take no further action, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Secretary of State’s Office has threatened to cut voter registration funding to the county if it does not comply, the newspaper reported.