Elections bill targeting Harris County heads to Gov. Abbott's desk

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Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Elections bill targeting Harris County heads to Gov. Abbott's desk
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The latest bill came as Harris County saw a couple of problems during the March 2020 primary and the Nov ember midterms.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- A new bill with major implications for Harris County voters is now headed to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk, where he is expected to sign it into law.

The bill would get rid of the Elections Administrator position the county commissioners created three years ago, and it specifically targets Harris County.

"There is definitely more conflict, but it takes two to tango," Mark Jones, Baker Institute Fellow in Political Science at Rice University, explained. "If Harris County Democrats were less adversarial with the state government, they probably would not be facing this intervention."

In Harris County, the elected county clerk and tax assessor had always been in charge of elections, and, under both Democrats and Republicans, there was a long history of delayed election results.

But, in 2020, county commissioners voted to create the position of an Elections Administrator appointed by commissioners, just like you'll find in more than half of the counties in Texas.

The move was pushed through by the Democratic majority on the court. Then, came the elections.

The March 2022 primary saw about 10,000 mail-in ballots that were originally uncounted.

Administrator Isabel Longoria resigned, but, problems continued under the new administrator, Clifford Tatum.

Twenty of the county's 782 polling places ran out of paper during the November midterm.

Republicans in the state legislature point to those problems as the reason for the intervention.

But, it's important to remember, the elected clerk and assessor are also Democrats, and the positions will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

"Now, the county clerk and county tax assessor are directly accountable to the voters of Harris County to run a fair and transparent election," Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey, who is the only current Republican on the court, and originally voted against creating the administrator position, said.

Another elections bill is expected to go to the governor's desk this week, and it also targets Harris County. The bill would allow the Secretary of State to step in if there are election problems.

Local Democratic lawmakers claim the state is punishing Harris County as a Democratic stronghold, and the county attorney said he's already looking at legal options.

"These folks are trying to brute force their way into power, and not only are we going to call them out on it, but I am convinced in the long run, and I hope you're hearing me, it is going to be their undoing," County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

"Dallas County, Bexar County, Travis County, those are all Democratic counties, those are all big parties. None of them ran out of paper in 2022. Harris County did. That's one of the reasons the spotlight is on Harris County now," Jones said.

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