Lege kneecaps Harris County elections

I have three things to say about this.

The Texas House of Representatives voted Tuesday to force Harris County to eliminate its chief election official and to give state officials more authority over elections there.

On a 81–62 party line vote, House Republicans passed Senate Bill 1750, which will abolish the Harris County elections administrator position — a nonpartisan position appointed by local elected officials — and return all election duties to the county clerk and tax assessor-collector.

Failed amendments by Democrats would have changed the new law’s effective date to December, instead of Sept. 1, to give county officials time to conduct the November county and municipal elections and to transfer the duties. Another failed amendment would have given the authority to transfer election duties to the county commissioners. The bill is now on its way to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk — and could ultimately face Harris County’s opposition in court.

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum said in a statement to Votebeat that when the provision takes effect in September, it’ll be 39 days from the voter registration deadline and 52 days from the first day of early voting for a countywide election that includes the Houston mayoral race.

“We fear this time frame would not be adequate for such a substantial change in administration, and that Harris County voters and election workers may be the ones to pay the price,” Tatum said.

Also approved Monday was a bill that would let the Texas secretary of state intervene in local elections. It would grant the state the authority to investigate election “irregularities” after complaints are filed and the authority to order the removal of a county election administrator or to file a petition to remove a county officer overseeing elections, such as a clerk, if “a recurring pattern of problems” isn’t resolved. The secretary’s current role in elections is only to guide and assist counties, with no oversight powers.

Senate Bill 1933 was originally written to apply to all counties but was amended on the House floor to impact only Harris County, by the House sponsor of the measure, Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress. The House’s changes to the bill now have to receive approval from the Senate this week.


Harris County leaders say the two bills would set a “dangerous precedent.” That’s why the county is now evaluating whether they can take legal action if the proposals become law.

County Attorney Christian D. Menefee in a statement said state legislators are singling out Harris County “to score cheap political points.”

“I want to be clear: this fight is not over,” Menefee said. “We cannot and will not allow the state to illegally target Harris County.”

1. It’s obnoxious and petty, but I still don’t quite understand the hate-on for the Elections Administrator office. Nothing will substantially change in terms of how elections are done in the county as a result of this, just the names and who they report to. Hell, as things stand right now the Chair of the Harris County GOP is on the oversight board of the EA. That authority disappears once the powers revert to the County Clerk and Tax Assessor. It’s a poke in the eye, but beyond that I don’t see what the Republicans think they’re getting out of this. What am I missing?

2. SB1933 is a lot easier to understand. The possibilities to screw with elections are scary enough, but I’m more worried about it being used to screw with voter registration, both to make it harder to get registrations done and to make it easier to throw voters off the rolls. There’s a reason why the voter rolls barely grew in the years that Paul Bettencourt was in charge of that.

3. There are some obvious avenues for attack in court, both state and federal. I don’t have much faith that the end result will be what we want, though. Like everything else, the only way out of this is winning more elections. And yes, the Republicans who pass these laws to make that harder for Democrats to do know that, too. The Chron, TPM, and Mother Jones have more.

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11 Responses to Lege kneecaps Harris County elections

  1. When Hidalgo, Ellis, and Garcia create new county bureaucracies out of thin air (e.g. Election Administrator, County Administrator), hand-pick the people to run those bureaucracies, and then pay those new officials hundreds of thousands of dollars annually (salary + benefits), the perception is that those new county officials are going to be extremely beholden to them. Even after appointment, these officials must do the bidding of those three folks or risk being fired. That relationship becomes very problematic when it comes to the administration of elections. Remember, Hidalgo, Ellis, and Garcia took that function away from two elected officials they can’t fire (County Clerk and Tax-Assessor-Collector) and gave it to someone they can fire (Mr. Tatum). It just didn’t look appropriate. Last year, the politics of this also created a direct conflict of interest for Mr. Tatum when the GOP candidates publicly campaigned to eliminate the Election Administrator Office (Mr. Tatum’s job). Frankly, it is very hard to be objective when your very livelihood is at stake. To be clear, I am NOT saying that Mr. Tatum did anything improper or illegal last year. I’m just saying the whole situation was problematic. Anyway, as a taxpayer, I’m ok with giving elections administration back to the County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector. There should be some cost savings in eliminating Elections Administration as a stand alone county department.

    Ok, Manny and J, go ahead and let me have it. Just know I would feel the same way if 3 Republicans appointed their hand-picked person to run our elections. I prefer this responsibility to fall directly under elected officials, not an appointed person.

  2. Manny says:

    Greg, I don’t recall you complaining about the Republicans, at least not in this forum. Were they that perfect?

    Are the Republicans doing anything at the state level you disagree with?

    I haven’t studied the issue much, but the two elected officials have much to oversee.

    Harris County is home to so many people, in fact, that it if were a state, it would be the country’s 25th largest state, …


    The Republicans, aka Fascists, like to whine because that is the only thing they have excelled at.

  3. Frederick says:

    Are these the same Republicans that have been lying about non-existent rampant election fraud for all these years?

    Yep, thought so.

  4. Manny – On topic: Back in 2020, when Commissioners Court first proposed the creation of an Elections Administrator Office, Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett and former Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman (both Democrats) publicly opposed the change. Despite our large population, I guess they felt confident they could handle the job they were already doing.

    Off topic: As far as state Republican actions, I generally agree with most of Kuff’s comments, I just don’t reply “Amen, brother” (do I need to?). Of course, I’m not as progressive or liberal as Kuff. I’m sure I’ve commented on Abbott, Patrick, Cancun Cruz, and Paxton in the past. They are divisive, self-serving, and, in Paxton’s case, probably crooked. I’d love to replace them all with a bunch of moderate Democrats. Still, the worst Republican out there is Donald Trump, whom I believe should be sitting in jail right now (see my blog post below). Anyway, I do support the legislature’s bipartisan efforts to help secure our border and lower our property taxes. I wish they would go ahead and legalize casino/sports book gambling so we can tax the hell out of it and use that new revenue to help fund our schools. Texans are already going to casinos, but all that gaming revenue is currently going to LA, OK, and NM.


  5. Manny says:

    Greg, you mentioned taxes and lowering them. I will assume that you mean property taxes.

    If you are retired and over 65, you probably pay less than $1,000 a year in property taxes. Since you retired from the county, I would be surprised if you don’t have a nice pension covering your property taxes—those taxes paid for your job, and now those pensions.

    I don’t see the state proposing to lower its share of the sales tax; they had over $30 BILLION in surplus.

    Why not attack the Republicans more often on your website?

    I don’t visit Kuff for the articles; I visit for the comments.

  6. Not 65 yet (57). My pension is fine, but it doesn’t adjust for inflation. I would definitely like to see our property taxes go down, but school districts really need more funding. I’d like to see the State of Texas tap currently unused revenue sources (like taxing casinos/sports betting, keeping that Texan money here).

    I can definitely attack Republicans more often (it’s like shooting fish in a barrel). Still, if Republicans keep nominating horrible candidates, that actually helps us. Anyway, there are a lot of democratic blogs that just attack Republicans. There are very few Democratic blogs that also try to steer our Party AND hold our own leaders accountable (provide candid feedback). I would argue that incompetent, self-serving, extreme, and/or corrupt Democratic politicians actually do more damage to our Party than Republicans. We shouldn’t let our own duds hide behind the “D” next to their name.

    I visit this blog for the posts. Kuff really does a great job keeping everyone informed. As far as the comments section, I occasionally like to throw out a moderate’s viewpoint or criticism and then have you guys challenge it. I’m sure Kuff would agree that an echo chamber really doesn’t help us grow.

  7. Manny says:

    I have learned one thing: if you want to win, you must play by the same rules the other guys play by.

    If in Rome, do as the Romans. You are in Harris County, and the progressives, good guys rule. Most of the elected Democrats are moderate, in my opinion—South Texas is more to the center-right.

    Why not allow drugs and tax them? Gambling can destroy lives just like some drugs do. I know more people that became addicted to gambling than to drugs.

    Abortion is a winning issue for Democrats, and that is a “Liberal” issue.

  8. mollusk says:

    More than half of Texas’ 254 counties have an elections administrator, and there are only a couple dozen blue counties give or take. It’s reasonable to expect that the vast majority of the administrators are R or R adjacent – that’s why the bill was narrowed down from its original statewide scope. The only reason for this and similar actions aimed at Texas’ largest blue county is to throw red meat to the snarling R base.

  9. Manny, granted, gambling addiction is a problem. Still, Texas already has many legal forms of gambling (e.g. the big lottery, scratch-offs, bingo, horse tracks, dog tracks, office pools). We even have some casinos already operating legally in Texas (on Indian tribal land). Aside from all the legal options, people are also gambling in illegal game-rooms. My point is, the people who want to gamble are already doing so. I just want to capture/tax all that Texas gaming money that is currently flowing to LA, OK, and NM casinos and sport-books. In addition to the additional tax revenue, this would also add more jobs in Texas (allow us to build casino resorts with hotels, spas, etc.). Anyway, I suspect we will just agree to disagree (like usual).

    As far as abortion, that is one issue that most liberals, progressives, and moderates can agree on – we all support a woman’s right to choose.

  10. Manny says:

    Greg, legalizing drugs will have same effects that you attribute to gambling.

  11. Pingback: Harris County to sue over those two new election laws – Off the Kuff

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