HOUSTON—Call it the mystery of the missing voter registration cards.
Fort Bend County voters recently found in their mailboxes an alarming flier warning them they might not be able to vote.
The direct mail piece from the Fort Bend County Republican Party bears the words “Voter Fraud Alert” in bright red letters above a warning saying “You may NOT get to vote!” It says that 40,000 voter registration cards weren’t delivered last spring and “it is possible that someone else has your card” and “could cast a vote in your name.” The mailer suggests voters cast their ballots on the very first day of early voting.
“The first thing I thought was it was a hoax by the Republican Party just to get people out to vote,” said Lee Renfro, who lives in Richmond. After some of her neighbors told her they hadn’t received their voter registration cards until a few days ago, she started asking questions.
The truth is that an estimated 22,000 voters in the Fort Bend County subdivisions of Pecan Grove and Cinco Ranch didn’t receive the registration cards mailed to them in April. County officials say they sent duplicate cards to the affected voters, but they’ve spent months trying to figure out what went wrong and even hired a survey firm to help determine the extent of the problem. Still, nobody knows what’s become of all those lost cards.
“The post office in June pretty much concluded that they did not know what happened to the cards,” said John Oldham, the Fort Bend County election administrator. “You know, it’s not a dead issue. In fact, there were postal inspectors in my office this week still following up on this.”
Still, he doesn’t suspect any foul play.
“I think the post office just lost them,” he said.
But suspicious voters wonder what happened and they still worry about those lost cards. Some officials say they’ve even heard speculation that unionized postal workers hijacked the cards to help deliver votes to President Obama. Nonetheless, Oldham said there’s no evidence anybody has tried to illegally use those cards to vote.
“We’re in our fourth election since these cards have been mailed,” he said. “We had a municipal school elections 12th of May, we had a primary in May, we had a runoff in May, checked in over 100,000 voters and nobody attempted to check in twice.”
“Whatever happened to the cards was an inconvenience,” he said. “It was an expense to us. But I don’t, so far, we’ve not seen any signs of vote fraud.”
Republican Party leaders didn’t return calls for comment. But if, as Lee Renfro suspected, it was an attempt to boost early voter turnout, it just might have worked. At the Cinco Ranch library, Oldham said, voters waited in lines 90 minutes long to cast their ballots on the first day the polls opened.