Harris Co. election administrator is jobless after TX Supreme Court rules Senate Bill 1750 into law

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023
New Texas law targeting Harris County elections goes into effect
Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth will supervise the 2023 elections after the Texas Supreme Court rules Senate Bill 1750 into law.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The State Supreme Court ruled to let Senate Bill 1750 become law on Sept. 1. That means Harris County's election administrator is out of a job for now, and he will not run for the Nov. 7 general election.

The legislature passed SB 1750, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it, but Harris County sued to stop it. After a lower court put it on hold pending trial, the Texas Supreme Court ruled to let it go into effect on Tuesday.

RELATED: Officials fight Texas law that will only ever apply to Harris County elections, attorneys say

The move Tuesday puts the Nov. 7 election under the supervision of Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth, who has experience running elections.

It was the county clerk who was in charge of voting until 2020, when Harris County Commissioners switched to an appointed administrator.

Hudspeth sent Eyewitness News the following statement about SB 1750:

"As an individual, I have mixed feelings about enacted laws that present unwarranted complications to election administrators and voters alike. Still, whether I agree with a law or not, I have taken an Oath to abide by the law as an elected official. My duty as Chief Election Official is to conduct elections with a non-partisan spirit, provide ALL voters with the information, materials, and assistance needed to vote, and work to strengthen voters' confidence in our election process. My priority is to strategically assess the current election administrative practices, evaluate the performance of the new election equipment, get a clear understanding of what ails the voting and election infrastructure, address it, and move us forward to a better place. As an experienced former election official familiar with the demanding work of running elections, I am confident Harris County can administer well-organized, transparent, fair elections. There is no magic formula to remedy what has gone awry in the last three years since the conduct of elections was removed from the County Clerk's Office. There is only plenty of work ahead for all of us, and a great commitment on my part to enable all eligible voters the opportunity to exercise their right to vote."

But after 2022, legislators targeted Harris County and wrote a bill that would remove the administrator. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt was the author.

"Our elected officials have experience doing this and prior jobs, and one of them actually doing the exact same job," Bettencourt told ABC13. "And so I anticipate that they'll be able to run it better, and that's what the bill was designed to do. And oh, by the way, that's a Republican legislature giving it back to two Democrat local officials. So this isn't about politics. It's about performance."

County attorney Christian Menefee, who successfully argued a delay of the law two weeks ago in Austin, issued a statement on Tuesday which read in part, "I am disappointed that the Texas Supreme Court is quietly allowing the legislature to illegally target Harris County. It was on the Texas Supreme Court to rein in these bad-faith lawmakers. The court failed Harris County residents."

The next election is a little more than two months from now, and it could be a rush to make sure it runs smoothly under new hands.

"The most troublesome and stunning thing is that we have elections upcoming very soon," University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said. "Without a real formula for how to do this quickly. It's going to be very difficult to get it done. So I think a lot of people are gonna be working overtime on this."

Bettencourt said he has faith in Hudspeth and Ann Harris Bennett, the Harris County tax assessor-collector, who will handle voter registration.

The fight over SB 1750 is not over. The Supreme Court of Texas will hear arguments from the county and the state on Nov. 28. Each side will have 20 minutes to make their case.

In the meantime, Clifford Tatum, who took the election administrator post a year ago, is out of a job.

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