Texas Border County Agrees to Clean Voter Rolls in Legal Settlement

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

A South Texas border county agreed to clean up its voter rolls as part of a federal lawsuit settlement amid ongoing voter fraud investigations.

This week, the complete details of a settlement agreement ending a federal voting lawsuit between the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), Starr County, and the Texas Secretary of State became public. The county is located along the U.S.-Mexico Border in the Rio Grande Valley.

The agreement followed a protracted legal battle that began in March 2016 when a civil lawsuit was filed against the Starr County election administrator and the Texas Secretary of State. The complaint alleged the County failed to use reasonable efforts to maintain accurate voter rolls, a violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, better known as the “Motor Voter” law. It mandated states “implement procedures to maintain accurate and current voter registration lists.”

ACRU president Susan Carleson hailed the deal as a model for other counties to follow in a statement.

“Counties across the country should be utilizing the best practices that Starr County has agreed to implement,” Carleson said. She added that jurisdictions should be more proactive to avoid litigation: “other counties should look for ways to improve election administration rather than encourage legal action by citizens groups.”

The settlement agreement outlined “the most comprehensive strategy to date aimed at improving the quality of voter registration records, practices, and training” for Starr County, according to a release issued by the ACRU’s legal counsel, the Public Interest Legal Foundation.

Starr County also agreed to pay $55,000 toward the ACRU’s legal fees, according to the Valley Morning Star.

Starr County agreed to implement several action items and maintenance strategies. Among them, election officials will actively investigate and remove deceased and duplicate registered voters from the rolls using all available state data and area obituaries. They must also accept and process potential duplicate voter registration leads from the State within 60 days of receipt.

The county agreed to use the U.S. Postal Services’ National Change of Address (NCOA) database to identify registrants who may have relocated out of the county without providing them notice or have died. Similarly, election officials agreed to review jury disqualification forms to ascertain if an individual was excused from duty for reasons of non-citizenship, relocation out of the county, or death.

As a result of the settlement, Starr County will collaborate with the State to create and implement written procedures for maintaining clean voter lists. The Texas Secretary of State will provide additional training for county elections office staff.

The county has 60 days to “resolve all pending maintenance actions originally flagged by the State of Texas for investigation regarding potentially ineligible registrants,” according to the release.

In the settlement, the ACRU agreed to offer the County its research tools and techniques for identifying ineligible voters, free of charge.

Earlier this year, Starr County District Attorney Omar Escobar, Jr., vowed to crack down on voter fraud in response to questionable voter rolls, allegations of illegal voting by nonresidents and noncitizens, and purported mail-in ballot fraud. Escobar requested help from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who pledged his office would assist with the county’s voter fraud prosecutions.

In the ACRU settlement, neither Starr County officials nor the Office of the Texas Secretary of State admitted any wrongdoing.

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