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Texas Senate Passes Bill Allowing Secretary of State to Cancel Harris County Election


The Texas Legislature introduces a bill that would allow the Secretary of State to redo elections in Harris County, where a number of Democratic candidates posted strong midterm election results and which has been sued by GOP allegations of election mismanagement.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill on Tuesday and sent it to the State House. If signed into law, it would allow the Secretary of State to throw out election results in the state’s largest county and call a new vote if there is “good reason” to believe that at least 2% of polling stations ran out of usable ballot papers during voting hours.

The bill would only apply to counties with populations over 2.7 million, effectively singling out Harris County, which is home to Houston and has by far the largest population in the state, with nearly 5 millions of inhabitants. Over the past several decades, Harris County has become more democratic.

Last year, the Harris County Republican Party sued the county and Clifford Tatum, its election administrator, for administering last year’s election, and many Republicans have also challenged their losses and called for a redo. elections. During the election, a legal battle erupted over whether to extend voting hours at Harris County polling places after several locations experienced issues including ballot shortages and openings. late.

In a 2022 midterms assessment, the Harris County Elections Administration Office could not conclude beforehand whether paper shortages led to voter refusal.

Tatum’s office responded to a request for comment with a backgrounder listing upgrades for future elections and examples of election-related issues before the county created an election administrator role.

Republican Senator Mayes Middleton, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure would provide a remedy for “systemic ballot denial”.

“We had 253 counties that really had no problem with ballots. We had one that did,” Middleton said Monday in a speech to the Senate. “This is an important accountability tool.”

State Sen. Borris Miles, a Democrat who represents part of Harris County, acknowledged the county had issues with election administration but said some of the allegations of mismanagement were “more conspiracy than facts”.

State Senator Sarah Eckhardt, also a Democrat, said in criticism of the GOP bill that redoing an election could cost tens of millions of dollars.

β€œI completely agree that no polling station should run out of paper,” Eckhardt said. “But the bill does not require that the blunder had, or even likely had, an effect on the outcome of the election.”

An audit by the Texas Secretary of State’s office on the 2020 election, which was handled by Tatum’s predecessor and took place at the height of the Covid pandemic, found Harris County had “very serious problems” in its management of the electronic media. But he found no evidence of fraud or intentional disenfranchisement.

Allegations of election mismanagement and fraud by conservative candidates and their supporters have become increasingly common following former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud over his 2020 election defeat. .

Mimi Marziani, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law and former president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for voters’ rights, said the bill was a “power grab partisan” on Harris County.

β€œIt gives an unelected person the power, without any procedural safeguards, to cancel an election when there are paper ballot issues,” Marziani said. “It’s very easy to see how this vast authority could be abused in a deeply undemocratic way.”

She added that there are mechanisms to remedy electoral errors, including recount disputes.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.