The lack of evidence in the Harris County election lawsuits is so glaring, I don’t know how we’re talking about anything else.
In the weeks following Harris County’s November election, 22 Republican candidates who lost their races filed lawsuits challenging the results and asking for new elections.
One of those was dismissed in January by House Speaker Dade Phelan on the grounds that Republican House candidate Mike May had failed to include a required fee with his petition.
The remaining cases will not go to trial until mid-June at the earliest. Judge David Peeples, a visiting judge from San Antonio, is hearing all of the remaining election contest lawsuits and likely will consolidate them into two separate trials based on which approach the attorneys in each case take.
Much of their argument, per their court filings, relies on the premise that county officials deliberately created ballot paper shortages at polling locations in predominantly Republican neighborhoods, turning away so many GOP voters that Republican candidates lost elections they otherwise would have won.
Harris County has a countywide voting system, meaning voters were able to cast ballots at any of 782 polling places on Election Day. If a voter went to a location that was out of paper, others polling places were available, typically within one mile.
A Houston Chronicle analysis of polling locations, county data and interviews with 40 election judges, including 32 who ran the polls Republicans said turned away voters, found at least 20 locations ran out of paper on Election Day, about 2.5 percent of the polls open across Harris County on Nov. 8. Some ran out for just 15 minutes, others for up to three hours. A handful of other locations suffered equipment and technical malfunctions that resulted in those polls opening late or having long lines.
While GOP candidates have argued voters were disenfranchised by the ballot paper shortages, the term may not fit the circumstances, according to Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
“The courts are going to have to decide whether people were disenfranchised or not,” Rottinghaus said. “That is something that is a judgment beyond what we can claim politically.”
For now, it remains unclear how large a role the ballot paper shortages will play in determining whether the judge decides to order any new elections.
First things first, just to be pedantic, but what loser Mike May filed was an election contest, which is adjudicated by the House. It’s not a lawsuit, which is heard in a district court. That’s why it was Speaker Phelan who dismissed it. It’s of a piece with the lawsuits filed by the other crybaby sore losers, but it’s a different thing and should be noted as such.
Second, I’ve skipped the main part of the article, but it really has nothing different from any previous reporting. Specifically, it doesn’t have any claim that some sufficiently significant number of people who tried to vote at one of these locations were not only unable to vote there, but were unable to vote at all as a result of the paper shortages. Why they couldn’t – not didn’t, but couldn’t – have gone to one of the 762 locations elsewhere in the county that wasn’t having any problems is a question that I presume the defense will ask them, but it doesn’t really matter because these people don’t exist. Maybe Andy Taylor or the furniture guy have located a couple of people to testify to their failure to vote. Anything is possible. But to even potentially affect all but the single closest race you would literally need thousands, usually tens of thousands of these people (in the closest race you’d need a few hundred), and there is no way they exist. It is simply not possible.
I will point out, as I have done before, that the reason these sites ran out of paper is because more voters showed up than the elections office projected were likely to show up. That’s an error, but quite a small one in context – again, there were 782 voting locations, and only 20 to 30 in the most generous interpretation of the data had shortages. In the pre-paper ballot days, this would have manifested as longer lines due to a lack of voting machines, which is very much a thing we have experienced in Harris County in the past. The lines for early voting in the 2008 Democratic primary were legendarily long because of this, as Dems were obliterating all records for turnout that year. Maybe they could have done a better job, and I would certainly expect that they will learn from this, but the only unique thing about this situation was the paper. We have seen this story before, more than once.
As for the claims about intent, specifically the intent to suppress Republican votes, I’m not a galaxy brain like Andy Taylor, but I don’t know how you can have evidence of intent when there’s no evidence of actual wrongdoing. As the previous reporting showed, the problematic areas were roughly split between centers in Democratic and Republican areas. There were slightly more in the Republican areas, but not a lot. It would not be at all difficult to only target Republican-located centers for this treatment if you wanted to. The data telling you where to aim is well known. To believe that there was an intent to suppress Republican votes in this manner is not only to believe in the criminality of the elections office, but also their total incompetence. You can make that claim if you really want. The explanation that this was just a missed projection is a whole lot stronger.
Finally, I don’t know what the standard the judge will use in these cases is. What I do know is that the core of the Republican argument is a whole lot of theory, hypotheticals, what-ifs, and coulda-shouldas. It’s the legal equivalent of a frustrated football fan after a tough loss saying if the ref hadn’t blown that call and if Miller had made that catch and if the coach had called a better play on that third down and if Johnson hadn’t gotten injured we could have won. If this is enough to order new elections, under what conditions would any election be decided by the voters? Why would we even bother if anyone can successfully petition for a do over any time they don’t like the outcome?