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Texas voter purge marked by mistakes, misidentifications

Texas election officials erroneously purged voters from the rolls after the voters were mistakenly linked with deceased individuals who shared their names and birthdays, according to a review of records conducted by the Houston Chronicle.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State, affirmed that the state was cross-referencing the its voter rolls with the Social Security Administration's death database, and that 6,491 voters have been deemed ineligible as a result.

One such voter, James Harris Jr., an African-American veteran of the U.S. Air Force who has voted in every presidential election since the Nixon era, received a letter asking him whether he was dead. He was apparently misidentified as an Arkansan man who shared his name and died in 1996.

Harris, who remains very much alive, was duly concerned, telling the Chronicle that he can't avoid the impression that "someone has gone to a concerted effort and gone to a lot of time and research coming up with this knock people off of the voting rolls."

And Harris's experience is far from unique. The purge, which was ongoing just weeks before the presidential election, has disproportionately targeted voters in legislative districts with higher concentrations of Latino and black voters.

The Texas Secretary of State's office was quick to point out that race and ethnicity played no official role in the administration of the purge. "Neither the Official List of Registered Voters nor the Social Security Death Master File contain any racial or ethnic data, making it impossible for race or ethnicity to play any role or impact in this process," explained Parsons.

One possible explanation for the purge's more-pronounced impact on minority districts is the popularity of certain surnames that could more easily lead to a false match.

Still, some Texas lawmakers remain suspicious, demanding further assurance that voters in their district aren't being wrongly disenfranchised. "I'm obviously very alarmed and concerned about the possible disenfranchisement of someone's opportunity to vote," said State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway, a Dallas Democrat. "I'm concerned about the accuracy of the list...and I'd like more of an investigation."

The purge stems from a 2011 law passed by the Texas legislature compelling election officials to use Social Security Administration data to scrub the voter rolls of dead voters.

Texas officials' efforts to clean the state's voter database have mimicked similar purge efforts in other states, including Florida, that have yielded similar controversy. Earlier this year, a national outcry erupted when Bill Internicola, a 91-year old World War II veteran living in South Florida, was purged from Florida's voter rolls after being mistakenly identified as a non-citizen.

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