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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."


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