Texas Senate votes to allow Gov. Abbott to overturn Harris County elections

Melanie Lawson Image
Friday, May 5, 2023
Senate votes to allow Abbott to overturn Harris County elections
The Texas Senate passed a bill that would allow Gov. Greg Abbott to overturn elections in Harris County.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Republican-controlled Texas Senate has just passed a bill that would let Gov. Greg Abbott and his appointees overturn elections in Harris County. It comes in response to the 2022 mid-term elections last fall, in which Democrats performed better than expected.

As ABC13 reported to you then, some polling places ran out of paper ballots, forcing voters to either wait for ballots to arrive or vote in other locations.

After the election, more than 22 Republican candidates filed suit against the county, challenging the results. One case has been tossed out by the judge, and the others are still pending.

The bill would give the governor's elections appointee the power to overturn the election results and call for a new vote.

"It's reprehensible," Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said.

He calls the bill "discriminatory" since it only applies to Harris County, the most populous and most diverse of 254 Texas counties, and he's threatening to sue if it passes.

"There's been room for improvement in Harris County elections for a very long time," Menefee continued. "But it wasn't until you started to see diverse people in charge of Harris County government that all of a sudden they want to have a criminal investigation. All of a sudden, they want to try to empower someone in Austin to overturn the results of Harris County elections."

ABC13 talked to Republican State Senator Mayes Middleton, who sponsored the bill. His district includes Galveston and part of Harris County.

Middleton says Harris County is being targeted because "election officials failed to do the most basic thing - provide voters with enough paper ballots in some 16% of the polling places."

RELATED: Lt. Gov. Patrick calls for new election in Harris Co., alleging some voting places didn't have paper

A spokesperson for the secretary of state's office said only a court order could force a redo of elections.

He maintains that the proposed law would not disenfranchise any voters, but it would require a new election be held if a shortage of ballots affected more than 2% of the county's polling places or if the ballots are more than an hour late. If that happens, the secretary of state can call for a new vote.

"It's not discriminatory at all," Middleton said, denying any partisanship involved. "It just makes sure everyone who wants to vote gets to vote."

"We don't know how many people didn't get to vote or had to leave the polls because it took too long," Middleton continued.

The county attorney denies the numbers were that high, saying that "97% of the county's 782 polling places showed no slowdown in voting."

The bill passed the Republican-led Senate, 19-12. It now goes to the House for a vote.

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