Another early start, for a clear reason in this case.
Harris County is headed to court to challenge a new state law that abolishes its elections office, County Attorney Christian Menefee announced Thursday.
The county’s lawsuit aims to stop Senate Bill 1750 from going into effect Sept. 1, just 39 days before the voter registration deadline and 52 days from the start of early voting in the November election, which includes the Houston mayoral contest.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measure into law just over two weeks ago.
The state law eliminates the elections administrator position established by Harris County Commissioners Court in June 2021 and returns election duties to the two elected offices that previously held them, the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector.
More than half of Texas’ 254 counties have appointed elections administrators, including several of the most populous, such as Bexar, Tarrant, Dallas and Collin.
Menefee has argued the Texas Constitution prevents state legislators from writing laws that single out one county.
“(SB 1750) abolishes the elections administrator office in only those counties that have an elections administrator and have a population of more than 3.5 million, importantly, on Sept. 1, 2023,” Menefee said. “It does not apply to counties that grow into that population in the future.”
Asked whether Menefee’s interpretation is correct, the office of state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the bill’s author, responded with a statement that confirmed the legislation applies only to Harris County, but did not address whether it will apply to other counties once they grow to over 3.5 million residents.
The bill initially applied to counties with at least 1 million residents, before it was narrowed to include only Harris.
The county will ask the judge to temporarily block the measure from going into effect on Sept. 1 and schedule a hearing in the next few weeks, Menefee said.
County officials previously said they would challenge a second bill targeting Harris County, Senate Bill 1933, as well. But for now, they’re holding off.
Senate Bill 1933 creates a state oversight process that could result in Harris County being placed under “administrative oversight,” meaning county officials would need to clear all election policies and procedures with the governor-appointed secretary of state.
See here for some background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. This is now the second of the expected lawsuits to be filed, joining the city’s anti-Death Star suit. I remain mostly pessimistic about a favorable result in this one, but I do think a temporary restraining order to allow the November election to proceed with no changes is an achievable goal. I’m more concerned about the other bill than this one, and I presume it will be filed after September 1 as originally expected. We’ll see how this one goes.