The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday denied Harris County’s request for an emergency order that would have allowed the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office to run the upcoming November election by temporarily delaying the implementation of a new state law that abolishes the office. The decision puts to rest months of uncertainty over who will oversee an election that’s now just weeks away.
A ruling last week from a Travis County district judge prevented Senate Bill 1750, a measure the Texas Legislature passed in May, from going into effect on Sept. 1. However, an appeal filed by the state hours later stayed that ruling, triggering the county’s request for an emergency order from the Texas Supreme Court to keep the judge’s injunction in place while the appeal is pending.
The Supreme Court has denied that request from the county, clearing the way for SB 1750 to go into effect on Sept. 1 and putting Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett in charge of the upcoming election.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement that the Supreme Court had failed Harris County residents.
“I am disappointed that the Texas Supreme Court is quietly allowing the legislature to illegally target Harris County, instead of considering the arguments and timely deciding whether Senate Bill 1750 violates the constitution. We first learned of today’s decision from media, instead of from the court itself,” Menefee said. “From the start, Republican legislators pushed this law abolishing the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office to undermine local elections and score political points on the backs of the good people who run them. By setting the law to go into effect Sept. 1, and not passing a single law to assist in the transition or provide additional funding, Republican legislators are making the job of running this November’s election much more difficult.”
The Supreme Court set oral argument in the state’s appeal for Nov. 28, three weeks after the election takes place.
The upcoming Commissioners Court meeting Aug. 29 will include a public discussion on how to proceed after the decision, Menefee added.
Legislation abolishing the elections office is just one piece of a “coordinated attack from state leaders,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said in a statement.
“Democracy in Harris County and the State of Texas took another blow today with the Texas Supreme Court ruling that allows the Legislature to target Harris County and exercise unprecedented control over our elections,” Ellis said.
See here for the background. Gotta say, this does not bode well for the appeal of the original ruling. It’s my understanding that the county has been preparing for this possibility, and County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth used to be the elections person before the Administrator’s office was created, so this should transition as smoothly as one could reasonably expect. It’s just that there was no need to force this to happen right before an election. Why take even a small risk of chaos when you don’t have to? It sure would be nice to live in a state that didn’t actively undermine a significant portion of its residents. Houston Landing, the Trib, and the Press have more.