By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas, Sept 20 (Reuters) - A Texas judge on Thursday temporarily blocked part of a state effort to remove dead people from the voter rolls after the purge led to thousands of people receiving letters asking them to prove they are alive.

The ruling by State District Judge Tim Sulak in Austin came after four Texas voters filed suit on Wednesday on the grounds that the voter roll purge violated state and federal election law and could interfere with people who were very much alive being able to vote in November.

Election officials sent about 80,000 notices to voters who were dead or "potentially deceased." The voters were told they needed to provide evidence that they were alive within 30 days or they would be removed from the rolls, the lawsuit said.

"The secretary of state's office is trying their best to force local registrars to purge people off the rolls who are alive and well," said Buck Wood, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, said: "Our policy is we do not comment on pending litigation."

Andrade told a state senator in a Sept. 11 letter that if someone failed to respond and was dropped from the rolls, and local officials later received information that the person was eligible, the officials must reinstate the voter immediately.

"In this way, any individuals canceled, who should not have been, are not penalized," Andrade wrote.

Among the voters who received a notice in the mail was Wood's son Dylan Wood, also an Austin lawyer.

"It was a little puzzling - I'm 42 years old," said Dylan Wood, one of the four voters suing state and local officials. "I still would like to know what it is that led them to believe I was dead."

Texas has long purged dead voters from the rolls, but a new state law passed with little fanfare in 2011 requires the state to use information from the Social Security Administration to evaluate the rolls.

Buck Wood said that in some cases, voters who have the same date of birth and final four Social Security digits as a dead person received notice that they were potentially dead. State officials called those "weak" matches.

Buck Wood said he doesn't object to officials purging "strong" matches - voters whose name, date of birth and full Social Security number all match those of a dead person.

The judge's order blocks Andrade from instructing counties to remove names from voter rolls in cases of weak matches. It also says that officials in Travis County - where Austin is located - must stop mailing out the notices to voters.

A hearing in the case was set for Oct. 4. (Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Florida Eliminates Early Voting On Sundays

    Tensions run high in Florida, a critical battleground state that passed an election law last year with several contested provisions. One bans a decade-long practice of early voting on Sundays before the election -- a window when as <a href="" target="_hplink">many as 30 percent</a> of black voters have previously cast ballots after attending church in a "souls to the polls" movement. Republican lawmakers claim the provision is meant to reduce election fraud, but some black Democrats say the calculation is more sinister. "It's my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African-Americans in this country because it's playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional," Florida Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said.

  • Photo ID Firestorm Rocks South Carolina

    The Justice Department <a href="" target="_hplink">dealt a blow </a>to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, arguing that it discriminated along racial lines. Haley's administration fired back <a href="" target="_hplink">with a lawsuit</a> that is expected to be decided in September. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said earlier this year that Republicans hope to tip the outcome of the presidential election by lowering voter turnout by 1 percent in each of nine states that have passed voter ID laws, the <a href="" target="_hplink">West Ashley Patch reports</a>. "I know nothing has changed yet," he said. "But I just do not trust the judiciary that we're operating under."

  • Disenfranchised Grandmother Sues Pennsylvania

    Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The state-issued IDs are free, but getting one requires a birth certificate, which costs $10 in Pennsylvania. Not everyone is having an easy time navigating the new system. Earlier this month, Viviette Applewhite, 93, <a href="" target="_hplink">filed a lawsuit </a>with the ACLU and NAACP challenging the law. Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, does not have a driver's license, and the state cannot find her birth certificate. She is afraid that this year will be the first since 1960 that she will be unable to vote. Applewhite's dilemma is not uncommon. Some <a href="" target="_hplink">700,000 Pennsylvanians</a> lack photo ID and half of them are seniors. According to <a href="" target="_hplink">the Brennan Center</a>, 25 percent of voting-age black citizens have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens.

  • Kansas Moves To Accelerate Proof Of Citizenship Law

    The Kansas House <a href="" target="_hplink">voted earlier this year</a> to move up the date a proof of citizenship law goes into effect to June 15, 2012, so it will limit who can vote in the presidential election. HuffPost's John Celock <a href="" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change.<br> Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said.</blockquote> Only 48 percent of voting-age women with access to their birth certificates have a birth certificate with a current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million American women do not have proof of citizenship with their current legal name, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to the Brennan Center</a>. The bill to change the start date <a href="" target="_hplink">eventually failed</a>, but will still go into effect next year.

  • Wisconsin Law Continues To Disenfranchise Voters After Suspension

    Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker <a href="" target="_hplink">signed a voter ID bill into law</a>, calling it a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin." As Walker's June 5 recall election approached, <a href="" target="_hplink">two judges suspended it on the basis that it is unconstitutional</a>. Still, poll workers <a href="" target="_hplink">reportedly asked some voters to show photo ID</a> during Wisconsin's April 2 primary, and one woman said that <a href="" target="_hplink">she and her 87-year-old mother were turned away at the polls </a>because they lacked current photo IDs -- even though they were registered to vote. "We were listed on their friggin' poll list and yet we had our names highlighted," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, <a href="" target="_hplink">told the <em>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</em></a>.


From our partners

Subscribe to the HuffPost Hill newsletter!