The Texas Legislature is advancing a bill that would give the state’s Secretary of State extraordinary powers to redo elections in Harris County, where a number of Democratic candidates posted strong midterm election results and which has been dogged by GOP claims of election mismanagement.
The Senate passed the bill Tuesday and sent it to the state House. If enacted, it would allow the Secretary of State to throw out election results in Harris County and call a new vote if “good cause“ is found that at least two percent of polling places ran out of usable ballots during voting hours.
The bill applies only to counties with populations greater than 2.7 million, effectively targeting Harris County, which has the largest population in the state at nearly 5 million and has become increasingly Democratic in recent decades.
Last year, the Harris County Republican Party sued the county and its election administrator, Clifford Tatum, over the administration of the midterm election, and a number of Republicans challenged their losses and called for a new vote. During the election, a legal battle arose over whether to extend voting hours at Harris County’s polling places after several locations had issues, including shortages of ballot paper and late openings.
The assessment by the Harris County Election Administration Office could not conclude whether paper shortages resulted in voters’ being turned away.
Republican state Sen. Mayes Middleton, a co–sponsor of the bill, said it would provide a remedy for “systemic ballot paper denial.”
“We had 253 counties that had no issues, really, with ballot paper. We had one that did,” Middleton said Monday in a speech on the Senate floor. “This is an important accountability tool.”
However, Democrats have criticized the bill and argue that it is a partisan power grab. State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt said redoing an election could cost tens of millions of dollars, while Mimi Marziani, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law and former president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the bill was an “undemocratic“ move.
The Secretary of State’s office audit of the 2020 election, which was managed by Tatum’s predecessor and took place at the height of the Covid pandemic, found that Harris County had “very serious issues“ in its handling of electronic media, but it did not find evidence of fraud or intentional disenfranchisement.
Allegations of fraud from conservative candidates and their supporters have become increasingly common as President Donald Trump has baselessly claimed voter fraud in his 2020 election loss.
It remains to be seen if the bill will pass the House and become law. If it does, it could have major implications for the future of Harris County elections and for the state as a whole.