ACRU Wins ‘Comprehensive’ Settlement in Starr County Voter Roll Suit
Agreement Outlines Maintenance, Training Reforms for Texas County
(McALLEN, TX.)—-September 10, 2018: The American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) entered a groundbreaking and paradigm establishing settlement agreement outlining the most comprehensive strategy to date under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 aimed at improving the quality of voter registration records, practices, and training for Starr County, Texas (ACRU v. Rodriguez et. al. 7:16-cv-00103).
“This well-crafted agreement makes great strides to preserve our most fundamental civil right and inspire new confidence in local elections,” ACRU President Susan A. Carleson said. “The settlement agreement calls upon the ACRU, Starr County, and the State of Texas to collaborate in the years ahead as we reform and establish best practices for maintaining the local voter file. The ACRU hopes that other counties potentially struggling with recordkeeping challenges see these measures as low cost easily-replicated solutions.”
The settlement agreement, signed by all parties as of September 4, calls for Starr County to pay a portion of the ACRU’s legal fees for bringing the lawsuit.
Below is a summary of action items and new maintenance strategies agreed to by the parties as outlined in the agreement.
- Deceased Voter Removals: Starr County will actively seek out evidence and investigative leads to identify deceased registered voters and remove them according to Texas and federal law. The County agrees to utilize all available databases provided by the State and institute in-house measures to review area obituaries. The ACRU agrees to offer its own research tools and techniques for identifying deceased registrants upon request at no cost.
- Processing Duplicate Registrations: Starr County agrees to improve processing of duplicate voter information from the state by accepting and processing potential duplicate voter registration leads from the State within 60 days of receipt, a marked improvement over past practices. The ACRU agrees to offer its own research tools and techniques for identifying duplicate registrants upon request at no cost.
- Reporting: Beginning January 2019, Starr County will provide reports to the ACRU reflecting total maintenance actions undertaken for two years for each of the aforementioned categories.
- Leveraging Jury Disqualification Data: Starr County agrees to begin taking regular delivery of state and federal jury disqualification forms where an individual was excused from duty for reasons related to citizenship, relocation out of the county, or because the individual is deceased. Those leads will be used to initiate investigations and notices to registrants in question under Texas law. Records will be canceled upon local confirmation of circumstances.
- Accessing the National Change of Address (NCOA) Database: Starr County agrees to begin accessing the U.S. Postal Service’s NCOA program to identify registrants who potentially relocated out of the county without direct notice.
- Prompt Processing of Ineligible Registrants: Within 60 days of this settlement, Starr County will resolve all pending maintenance actions originally flagged by the State of Texas for investigation regarding potentially ineligible registrants.
- New & Improved County Procedures: Starr County agrees to collaborate with the State of Texas to develop and implement new written procedures governing local list maintenance tasks.
- Enhanced Training: The Texas Secretary of State agrees to provide classroom training for the Starr County Elections Administrator and staff.
“Counties across the country should be utilizing the best practices that Starr County has agreed to implement,” said Susan Carleson, President of the ACRU. “We are pleased that the voters of Texas will be able to have more confidence in the outcome of elections, but disappointed that it took litigation to reach this outcome. Other counties should look for ways to improve election administration rather than encourage legal action by citizens groups.”
The lawsuit was initiated in March 2016 after the ACRU notified Starr County in December 2015, pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, that it was apparently in violation of federal maintenance standards due to implausibly high numbers of registered voters in contrast to U.S. Census counts of citizens in residence there. Federal and Texas data suggested that from 2010 to 2014, the rate of registration ranged from 100 to 110 percent—-very much outside of the norm for other Texas counties of similar size. Before commencing litigation, the ACRU sought but could not find an agreeable strategy with the county to remedy the alleged voter list maintenance failures.
Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act provides parties like the ACRU the right to file a lawsuit when they believe a jurisdiction is falling out of compliance with federal mandates. In the event of a judgment in favor or preferred settlement agreement, plaintiffs may seek necessary legal fees in return.
The settlement agreement provided that the parties will dismiss the Plaintiff’s claims. The dismissal was entered by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, McAllen Division on September 7, 2018. The case number is 7:16-cv-00103.
Eric Wiesehan and attorneys for the Public Interest Legal Foundation represented the American Civil Rights Union for the duration of the case.
The American Civil Rights Union is dedicated to protecting the civil rights of all Americans by publicly advancing a constitutional understanding of our essential rights and freedoms. The ACRU monitors and counters organizations that threaten our constitutional rights and promotes election integrity, compliance with federal election laws, government transparency and constitutional government.