Refusal to purge voters could result in county layoffs

September 17, 2012 3:43:20 PM PDT
There are new developments in a dispute between the county attorney and state over how to identify dead people who are registered to vote, and the county stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding over the issue.

"I thought I'd call and commend you when you're doing the right thing,' State Senator Rodney Ellis said on the phone to Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners.

Senator Ellis was glad to hear from Sumners that he won't purge still-alive voters off Harris County voter rolls just before the November election.

"Everybody would agree you don't want dead people voting," Sen. Ellis said. "But the challenge is how do you end up not disenfranchising voters that are still with us?"

The decision by Sumners not to use the secretary of state's list of 9,000 possible dead voters is causing even more problems. The state is now withholding $700,000 from the county, and Sumners said Monday morning he could have to lay off people by Tuesday.

"Obviously, if we have to lay off clerks that are processing voter [applications], that would be a pretty much a disaster for us," Sumners said.

But Monday afternoon, Harris Co. Judge Ed Emmett said it was Sumners who caused the whole mess.

According to Judge Emmett, the secretary of state sent out two lists. One is a "soft" match of 9,000 possible dead voters. Another is a list of 1,000 "hard" matches that were more likely to be actual dead voters.

Emmett says Sumners sent letters to the 9,000 and ignored the 1,000 names.

"I think if he had approached this properly in the first place, we wouldn't be in this mess," the judge said.

"Let's put it this way: the office made a mistake," Sumners said. "Me personally, no, but I'm in charge."

For now, Sumners' staff is working on purging the 1,000 so-called hard matches, but if no resolution is found, there still could be a lawsuit.

"The last thing we need is Harris County suing the state," Judge Emmett said.


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