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The Brief: Sept. 21, 2012

With the start of early voting just a month away, yet another voting rights battle appears headed toward federal court.

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The Big Conversation:

With the start of early voting just a month away, yet another voting rights battle appears headed toward federal court.

On Wednesday, State District Judge Tom Sulak temporarily prevented the state from ordering counties to purge possibly dead voters from their registration rolls.

The ruling stemmed from a new state law under which the secretary of state has instructed counties to conduct regular purges of dead voters. Election officials throughout the state have already sent about 80,000 letters to presumably dead voters asking them to verify that they are alive or risk removal from voter rolls

But the practice received intense scrutiny last week after hundreds of (definitely alive) voters, mostly in Harris and Travis counties, began complaining that they'd received letters.

On Wednesday, Sulak, a Democrat, instructed the state and the plaintiffs — four voters who received letters — to agree on a hearing date within two weeks.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Attorney General Greg Abbott's office said it would take the case to federal court to try to lift Sulak's order, setting the state up for yet another round of legal wrangling over its voting laws. Cases involving voter ID and redistricting currently await further court action.

As the Austin American-Statesman notes, the latest court fight would likely center on whether — as the plaintiffs' lawyers argue — Secretary of State Hope Andrade overstepped her authority by letting counties use possibly unreliable data to purge dead voters. The lawyers have also said that the new rules may have violated the federal Voting Rights Act, which forces some states, including Texas, to seek approval from the Justice Department or a federal panel before altering their voting laws.

"The problem is confusion at a time when we don't get much voter turnout to begin with," David Richards, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the Statesman. "And we don't need to complicate the matter."

Culled:

  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston plans to spend up to $3 billion over the next decade to finance a "moonshot" effort against cancer, "similar to the all-out push for space exploration 50 years ago," The Associated Press reports. The initiative will target eight forms of cancer, including breast, ovarian and leukemia.
  • Workers at a Coca-Cola plant in Forth Worth have rejected an effort that would have made their workplace the first unionized corporate-owned facility in the South, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. By a vote of 215-191, employees rejected the Teamster-led proposal, whose defeat Coca-Cola in a statement called "a vote of confidence in our local management team who remain committed to working hard with all of their employees to ensure they merit the trust and confidence placed in them."
  • The second annual Texas Tribune Festival kicks off tonight! Gov. Rick Perry will deliver the keynote address at 6 p.m., followed on Saturday by a full day of debate, discussion and dialogue. Visit the festival website for more information on who will be there and how to attend, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for live updates throughout the weekend.

"Get a grip fellow — if you want to be an American act like one and be proud of our country and stand up for our military. If you can’t do that then go where people are sensative [sic] enough for you — I guess that would be Afghanistan — where they still live like they are in the Stone Age — but still very sensative." — State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, in a Facebook exchange with a Houston law student named Abdul Pasha

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