Saturday, October 18, 2008

Texas SOS, Harris registrar fall behind in processing voter registrations

But I'm sure there will be plenty of provisional ballots available:

Thousands of Texans who registered to vote a few weeks ago likely will find their names missing from official voter lists when early voting starts Monday for the Nov. 4 election, officials said.

The voters will be allowed to cast ballots but may have to fill out special forms at polling stations or wait a few days before voting, according to state and Houston-area election administrators.

Officials blame a deadline-beating rush of registration applications before Oct. 6, and maintenance to a computer database of Social Security numbers, for the fact that many registrations won't be processed in time for the early voting kickoff.

But praise be, tax assessor-collector/voter registrar Paul Bettencourt indicates that only 7000 Houston-area voters may be affected:

In Houston, about 70 employees in the voter registrar's office will work through the weekend to clear most of a backlog of about 30,000 applications, Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said Friday. Some will turn out to be valid, others duplicates or address changes for voters on the rolls.

But, he said, perhaps 7,000 applications from Harris County residents will require extra verification and probably won't be cleared before Monday, the first of 12 days of early voting at 36 county locations.

The Secretary of State's Office in Austin must also verify the applications, using driver's license and partial Social Security numbers, before voters are added to lists in each county of qualified voters. But as the state agency works through the weekend to handle applications submitted by counties, it will take about 24 hours to approve each new voter.

"We were keeping up very well with the increased load, but we started to run a little behind when the Social Security Administration closed their (computer program) down for maintenance last weekend," said Ashley Burton, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Hope Andrade. "Since the start of October there has been a huge increase in the number of new voter records that the counties have submitted for verification."

No information was available on the database outage, a Social Security spokeswoman in Dallas said Friday. Nor were statistics available from the state on what Burton called applications from "large amounts of new voters" outside Harris County.

So as the conservatives continue to drive themselves nuts over ACORN, the voter suppression efforts contine to be the real story locally. Bettencourt says that ten thousand people missed the deadline to vote in this election (note also the statistics I bolded below for future reference):

Many Harris County residents may not realize, until they try to vote, that their registrations were submitted or mailed too late for the Oct. 6 deadline.

About 10,000 such registrations will be added to the rolls for future elections, Bettencourt said, but those voters will be unqualified to vote in the Nov. 4 election for president, Congress, county officers and other government positions.

About 1.94 million voters will be eligible to cast ballots this year in Harris County, roughly the same number for the last presidential election. The statewide voter roll has edged up to 13.4 million, about 300,000 more than last time.

The Harris County election administrator, County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, said 300 or so staffers at early voting locations are prepared to assist residents who want to vote even though they may be missing from registration records.

For voters who present a voter registration card or other identification — no photo ID is needed — but whose name is absent from the voter rolls, election workers first will call Bettencourt's office to see if their registrations have been approved, Kaufman said. In many cases, voters will immediately be cleared to vote.

Voters whose names are not on the lists may also vote immediately after swearing, in a written provisional ballot form, that they registered. But their votes will be separated from the main ballot record, Kaufman said, and will be counted after Nov. 4, if their registration is verified.

Or perhaps they won't be counted at all. Seriously.

I'm going to do a little shouting now.

If your name does not appear on the voter roll when you go to vote, PLEASE DO NOT FILL OUT A PROVISIONAL BALLOT. Leave the polling place and call this number: 1-866-OUR VOTE (687-8683).

This is also why you should vote early; so that if there are "issues" with your registration, they can be cleared up -- hopefully -- in time for you to cast a ballot that counts (with at least as much faith as we are able to place in electronic voting systems, anyway). You don't want to be experiencing this circumstance at 6:45 p.m. on Election Day.

And remember when you do vote that Bettencourt's Democratic challenger is Dr. Diane Trautman.

Update: Charles Kuffner has more on why this is a problem in the very first place. Shorter version: it's all about the Bettencourt.

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