Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ed Emmett, Don Sumners, and "esperanza"

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has brokered a deal with the Texas secretary of state to restore about $700,000 in funding the state had cut off after the county tax assessor said he would not purge presumed-dead voters from the rolls before the Nov. 6 election.

Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners on last week said he would delay the purge after hundreds of very-much-alive voters called his staff, upset about a letter they had received from his office saying they may be dead and would be removed from the rolls if they did not act within 30 days.

Those voters were on a list of about 9,000 names generated by the Secretary of State's Office using data from the Social Security Administration's master death file, as mandated by a new state law.

State officials, saying the purge is required by law, accused Sumners of jeopardizing the integrity of the election and cut off his voter registration funding. Sumners had received about $31,000 of an expected $732,404 this year before being shut off, secretary of state spokesman Rich Parsons said. 

When this news broke last week -- along with the subsequent developments -- my first reaction was the same as everyone else's: "I'll be damned; Don Sumners did the right thing". As I thought about it some more -- given Sumners' inherent Tea Party bias -- I began to wonder if this wasn't some kind of three-dimensional chess game, where Sumners would be able to disenfranchise last-minute registrations, hang a 'Mission Accomplished' banner at the King Street Patriots' headquarters, and avoid being seen as the bad guy. (Texas SOS Esperanza "Hope" Andrade is, after all, appointed by the governor and thus unaccountable to public opinion.)

But then I remembered: this is Don Sumners. He can't be trusted to pull on his boxers with the snap in front. Even Ed Emmett knows this.

Emmett blamed Sumners for the mix-up, revealing the tax office had been sent two lists by the secretary of state, but only acted on one. One list included 9,000 names the state considered "weak" matches to death records. The second list was composed of about 1,000 names considered "strong" matches to death records.

Sumners' office only sent letters to voters on the "weak" list. Sumners, who serves as the county's chief voter registrar, acknowledged his office erred, believing until late last week that the 1,000 names on the "strong" list were among the 9,000 on the other list.

Emmett's deal is based on the "strong" list. The secretary of state has agreed to restore Sumners' funding if the taxman sends letters to the names on the strong list, canceling those whose relatives confirm they are dead and removing from the voter rolls those for whom there is no response after 30 days, Parsons said.

Everybody -- yes, even Democrats -- believes the deceased ought to be removed from the voter rolls. Only a few people who drink too much tea and watch too much Fox News believe it's a good idea to do it the way Sumners did it, especially less than two months before Election Day. He must have gotten a lot of calls from allegedly dead Republicans to have reversed himself so quickly.

To the larger issue of voter disenfranchisement generally -- and the growing franchise operated by Catherine Engelbrecht -- here's an example of what KSP thinks is happening... and what's really happening.

In Houston, the group targeted the Congressional district represented by Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who is black. Ms. Engelbrecht said the group settled on Ms. Lee’s district because thousands of addresses there housed six or more registered voters, which it took as an indication of inaccurate registrations. The methodology, which the group still uses, could disproportionately affect lower income families. 

Volunteers spent five months analyzing 3,800 registrations in Ms. Lee’s district, discovering more than 500 voters that the group said were problematic. More than 200 voters were registered at vacant lots, prompting Ms. Engelbrecht to later remark that those voters had a “Lord of the Rings Middle Earth sort of thing going on.” 

The reality was far less interesting. 

“They had one particular case I remember very well,” said Douglas Ray, the Harris County assistant attorney who represents the election registrar. “They had identified an address where eight or 10 people were registered to vote. There was no building there.” Mr. Ray found out that the building had been torn down and that the people simply moved. 

This would be another example of conservatives really having no understanding -- and even less empathy -- of how the poverty-stricken live their lives.

My feeling is that most independent voters are as sick of sneering plutocrats and oligarchs as the the rest of us. But we'll have to wait and see what the poll that concludes on November 6 says.

That's moving from esperanza and toward surety every day.

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