Voting rights groups accuse Texas Republicans of orchestrating a “power grab” in a county that is becoming more Democratic after the GOP passed two laws that target the elections process in Harris County, the state’s largest and the location of Houston. The bills approved by the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate are now on Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.
Legislators approved SB 1933 on Sunday, allowing the Abbott-appointed Texas secretary of state to “order administrative oversight” of a county elections office if, for example, a complaint is filed or there is reason to suspect a pattern of issues with voter registration or election administration. The only county in the state that satisfies this requirement is Harris County, which would be affected by the proposal if it had a population of more than 4 million.
Last week, legislation that would remove the post of elections administrator in a county with a population of more than 3.5 million people—again, exclusively affecting Harris County—was approved by the Texas House on a party-line vote. The responsibilities of the elections administrator would be moved to the county tax assessor-collector and county clerk under that measure, SB 1750.
The Harris County election commission, under Democratic control, appoints the elections administrator, a post created in 2020. Both the county clerk and tax assessor-collector are Democrats. Earlier this month, the legislation was approved by the state Senate. The law would take effect on September 1 if it were to be approved.
Democrat Christian Menefee, the county attorney for Harris County, announced last week that the county will challenge the state over the two legislation, which he termed “clearly unconstitutional.”
“(Our) state’s constitution bars lawmakers from passing laws that target one specific city or county, putting their personal vendettas over what’s best for Texans,” Menefee said in a statement.
Although Texas has historically been a bastion for the Republican party, Harris County has recently tended to tilt more Democratic. In 2020, President Joe Biden carried the region by a large margin. In the November governor’s contest, Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, triumphed in the county but fell short of Abbott statewide by a significant margin.
CNN Politics tweeted that The measures, which passed the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, now head to the desk of GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. You can see below:
The measures, which passed the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, now head to the desk of GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. https://t.co/xJQcAD46jz
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 29, 2023
The March primary mail-in ballot count in Harris County faced issues that led to the resignation of Isabel Longoria, the county’s previous elections administrator. A vote disparity that left thousands of ballots out of the unofficial primary results was one of the issues, as were damaged ballots that caused a delay in the reporting of results. The county again encountered problems during the general election, including a lack of paper ballots, equipment faults, and delays in opening polling.
“Voters should have confidence in their elections, and when they see Harris County Elections Administrators botch election after election in 2022 that confidence is shaken,” Houston-area state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who authored both bills, said last month.
Bettencourt defended his proposal, claiming that SB 1933 will “ensure the failures or the fiasco of the general election never occurs again with the Texas Secretary of State oversight of the election process, if necessary.”
If you are interested in learning more about the election, kindly click the following link:
- Texas House Passes Harris County Election Chief Elimination Bill
- Texas Senate Allows Secretary Of State To Invalidate Harris County Elections
However, James Slattery, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit that advocates for civil rights, claimed that the proposals would “open the door for the Governor and his allies to manipulate elections in the nation’s third-largest county for their partisan gain.”
“It is the latest power grab by state officials in a Session dominated by efforts to centralize power and gut the right of local communities to govern themselves,” he said in a statement.