Texas GOP lawmakers to decide bills aimed at Harris County elections

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Published Tuesday, May 9, 2023
by Roz Brown

(Texas News Service) Three weeks remain in the 2023 Texas legislative session with a bill under consideration that could ultimately throw out future election results in the state's most populated county. Harris County, home of Houston and almost 5 million residents, is the target of two Senate bills that would eliminate the elections administrator position there and return all election duties to the county tax assessor-collector and county clerk. It comes on the heels of S.B. 1 passed in 2021, which implemented new restrictions on voting by mail, a ban on drive-through voting, and empowered partisan poll watchers. 

Katya Ehresman with Common Cause Texas describes the ongoing attacks on voting rights as "deaths by a thousand cuts..."

"Instead of just create explicit barriers to the voters, they're trying to undo the systems of elections as we know it, which is terrifying when you look at historical precedents of the decline of democracy and how other countries have navigated this crisis," Ehresman said. 

During the 2022 midterm election, voting machines malfunctioned at several polling places in Harris County. S.B.1750, proposed by Republican State Senator Paul Bettencourt, passed by a vote of 20 to 11. Bettencourt said voters should have confidence in their elections - and Harris County glitches in the last election eroded that confidence.

Should a Harris County election be declared void, results would be subtracted from statewide totals, and the county would need to hold an entirely new election at its own expense. Ehresman added instead of solutions to voting problems, Common Cause has noted a lot of politics injected into discussions about the election system.

"What we really need is resources," Ehresman added. "We need more protections for election administrators to be able to do their job and to do their job well, and that's not what we're seeing in the Legislature."

Results from special elections lean heavily toward the GOP due to a larger pool of salaried workers and retirees who do not need to take a day off from work. Harris County was a Republican stronghold as recently as 2014. Since then, Democrats have won the majority of county commission seats, the county judge's office, and swept nearly every judicial seat.

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