Voting Rolls Mystery Part 2

The county's side

As we reported last week, Travis County election worker Mike Conwell says that while working the November 2007 election, he encountered a large number of voters whom he believes were improperly removed from county voting rolls shortly after voting in local elections. While doing a personal audit of the rolls, he says, he found hundreds of cases of voters who were placed on the "suspense" list, a classification including citizens whom the county believes may have moved from their registered addresses. Last week, we contacted Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Nelda Wells Spears about Con­well's claim, and she said his conclusions aren't quite right.

Spears said that voting alone does not remove the suspense flag from a voter's record. The voter must actually contact her office to confirm that his or her name doesn't belong on the list. Spears explained that, after voter registration cards are mailed out, some get returned for various reasons, and the cards are not forwardable. When that happens, her office then mails out a letter of confirmation (which is forwardable), and the letter requires a response within 30 days. If that doesn't happen, the voter's registration goes into suspense. The voter may still vote but must fill out a statement of residence (essentially, another voter registration application). If the county does not receive updated information after two federal election cycles, the voter is then purged from the rolls.

This follows another controversy in which some voters got improperly dumped from rolls by the Texas Election Administration Manage­ment system, a centralized voter registration roll maintained by the Texas secretary of state. The state and the county have been pointing fingers of blame at each other. Spears wrote to us: "The TEAM system was programmed to read only one data field to determine a voter's county of residence. This was not a good idea, which Voter Registrars across the state told the SOS staff before their system even went live. Now that the predicted fallout has occurred and resulted in many voters statewide being canceled, we are trying to get the program changed to examine more than one data field before canceling a voter."

Former state Rep. Glen Maxey, who is challenging Spears in the March 4 primary, cited both of these cases as reasons why voters should elect him and his activist vision for the office: "Why isn't this office ... proactively going to those who cast the ballot?" Maxey asked the Chronicle. "She has a responsibility to try to track these people down."

Bottom line, no matter who is right: Voters are advised to check their voter registration status at www.traviscountytax.org or by calling 854-9473. If you're not registered and you wish to vote in the primaries, you must be signed up no later than 12mid on Monday, Feb. 4, at that same Web address or phone number.

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