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.