Texas Republican senators have passed a bill that would give the (also Republican) governor’s office the power to overturn elections in one county, which has consistently voted Democratic in recent years.
The bill, which easily passed the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday, is a direct response to a snafu in Harris County midterm elections. About 20 polling stations ran out of ballot paper on Election Day, which Republicans argued swung results away from them. But an investigation by the Houston Chronicle found that while there were issues and technical problems, no voters were unable to vote. There was also no evidence that the issues changed any race outcomes.
Still, Republican lawmakers are targeting the county. Tuesday’s measure now heads to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where it is also likely to pass, and would then head to Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s desk. The bill would give Abbott’s appointed secretary of state the power to order a new election in Harris County should at least two percent of its polling stations run out of ballot paper for more than an hour. Harris County has 126 voting locations, so it would only need to run out of paper at three stations for the secretary to order a brand new election.
Senate Republicans said the bill was about ensuring voting logistics, not overturning an election, but Democratic Harris County Senator Borris Miles said the measure was based on a conspiracy theory. He also pointed out that the bill only affects Harris County. The bill’s sponsor said he was open to expanding the measure to encompass other counties, but there appeared to be no such amendment by the time of the vote.
Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, has consistently voted Democratic since the 2016 election. Since then, Democrats have won most of the county commission seats and nearly all of the judicial ones. President Joe Biden and gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke also prevailed there by well over 50 percent.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee also said the bill was “not about making elections better.”
“They are about targeting the largest county in the state, which is led by people of color. Laws that attack only one county are not only bad public policy, but also violate the Texas Constitution,” he said.
Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia put things a little more bluntly: “They’d rather be able to rig results than try to win fair and square,” he said.