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New law requires counties to make sure voters still alive

By BY JESSICA PRIEST - JPRIEST@VICAD.COM
Sept. 14, 2012 at 4:14 a.m.


Who can vote?

Victoria County has about 52,000 registered voters. The last day to register for the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9. Early voting begins Oct. 22.

You are eligible to register to vote if:

• You are a United States citizen;

• You are a resident of the county where you submit the application;

• You are at least 18 years old on Election Day;

• You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole);

• You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

• To register, visit the Victoria County Elections Office at 111 N. Glass, call 576-0124 or e-mail elections@vctx.org.

• For more information, go to votetexas.gov.

James Turner had to prove this week that he is still alive.

Turner, a five-year Victoria resident, found a letter in his mailbox Wednesday asking him to confirm whether he was alive within the next 30 days. If he failed to do so, he might not be able to vote in the Nov. 6 election.

Elections Administrator George Matthews said Turner is just one of what will soon be 300 other registered voters in Victoria County to get the note after a 2011 provision of the Texas Election Code, or House Bill 174, mandated registrars check their rolls against names appearing on the Social Security Administration's death master file.

It's a tool that joins several others registrars use routinely to ensure the integrity of their rolls, such as obituaries published in the newspaper and birth and death certificates filed in the city secretary's office, but that doesn't mean it's always accurate, Matthews said.

That's because names get added to the Social Security Administration's death master file for something as simple as having your mail returned to the post office when you move. And there's not a lot to go on either, usually just the first and last name, he said.

"What has a thrown a bit of a problem into the situation is if you have a fairly common name like Mary Smith," Matthews said.

He said they would've started sending letters out sooner, but redistricting lawsuits and other issues delayed the process.

He is only mildly concerned this will discourage people from heading out to the polls.

"People sometimes might use this as an excuse," Matthews said, "but if they were truly going to be voting anyway they'd show up at the polling place."

And there's never been a time to his knowledge where a dead person cast a vote in Victoria County.

Occasionally Matthews' office receives a request for a mailed ballot from a person, but the person dies after casting their ballot but before election day. Matthews said in those cases, they do count the ballot.

Meanwhile, Turner, who has been voting in every election for the past 50 years, is happy he got the mix-up resolved.

"I don't have any quarrel with him," Turner said of Matthews, "but I'm extremely concerned that every voter is presumed to be committing voter fraud and the onus is on the voter to prove his innocence."

So far, 100 people have responded to the letters sent in Victoria County.

Voter registration will be canceled for those who do not reply, but, if they show up on election day, their registration could be reinstated so long as they provide identification information, Matthews said.

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