Among the issues cited in the filings are the county’s delayed openings of multiple sites; an Election Day court order to keep polls open an extra hour, later overturned by the Supreme Court of Texas; and a paper ballot shortage that forced multiple polling sites to turn away voters on Election Day.
According to the county’s canvassed results, Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer lost to incumbent Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo by just over 18,000 votes out of nearly 1.1 million cast in the 2022 general election.
In a statement announcing her decision to file a formal election contest in state district court, Mealer said her decision was prompted by the recently published report from the county’s Elections Administration Office (EAO).
“After reviewing all publicly available data, I have decided to file an election contest in light of the post-election assessment submitted by Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum,” said Mealer.
The EAO released a preliminary analysis of the 2022 general election last week, acknowledging multiple Election Day problems and noting that 68 precinct judges reported paper ballot shortages. The county said it delivered additional supplies to 61 of those, but does not provide data on the number of sites that turned away voters.
The report also admits that an unspecified number of polling sites were unable to open on time, blaming the problem on malfunctioning equipment, election workers who quit unexpectedly, and the parade celebrating the Houston Astros’ World Series win the day before the election.
“Far from being a ‘success,’ as the report characterizes, there were serious operational issues that occurred throughout Election Day that call into question whether the county’s failures denied voters their right to vote,” said Mealer.
“The report culminates with the ultimate ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse of the World Series parade being responsible for delayed openings and fails to solidify the number of polling stations that suffered from ballot paper shortages.”
Mealer’s filing alleges that Tatum and the EAO “have suppressed the voting rights of a not statistically insignificant number of Harris County residents residing or voting in high Republican turn-out locations, through a variety of unconstitutional, illegal, and negligent schemes resulting in the constructive closing of their polling locations on election day with no redress.”
Additionally, the lawsuit says that officials failed to count legal votes and prevented voters legally entitled to cast ballots from voting or having their ballot counted, leaving the true outcome indeterminable. It then accuses the county of violating the federal Voting Rights Act since some residents had to travel more than 25 miles to vote.
Alleged election improprieties in the county drew attention from Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is conducting an investigation into multiple criminal complaints in conjunction with the Texas Rangers.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee called the filings “nonsensical legal theories.”
“These losing candidates are finally laying bare what we all know to be true — for them, it’s not about improving elections or making sure our elections are secure, it’s about playing games with our democratic systems and refusing to accept the will of the voters,” said Menefee in a statement.
In one of the closest races in the county, Republican Tami Pierce lost to incumbent Democratic Judge DaSean Jones for the 180th District Criminal Court by a mere 449 votes. Pierce’s lawsuit filed Thursday says that extending hours for polling sites without necessary supplies was an “exercise in futility.”
Pierce also pointed to more than 2,000 provisional ballots in her race cast by voters in line after 7:00 p.m. that were not supposed to be included in the official count according to the Supreme Court of Texas. After those are subtracted, Pierce only trails Jones by a mere 89 votes: a 0.0083 percent margin.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), former Harris County voter registrar, told The Texan that when a county election administrator “either could not or would not get enough ballot paper to the polls for voters to vote on, that’s real voter suppression.”
“Having thousands of voters turned away from dozens of polls in November because of a lack of paper ballots when the Harris County EAO Warehouse has Millions more truly damages public confidence in the election system.”
Mike May was the first candidate to file a 2022 election contest following his loss to incumbent state Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston). A few days later, Republican candidate for the 189th District Criminal Court Erin Lunceford formally contested her 0.26 percent loss to Democrat Tamika Craft.
Lunceford’s lawsuit, filed by long-time elections attorney Andy Taylor, cited 19 examples of alleged violations of the Texas election code that would make the true outcome of her race unknown.
In the new spate of election contests, most of the candidates are represented by election litigation attorney Elizabeth Alvarez. Pierce is represented by attorney and former Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson.
Last month, the Texas Secretary of State’s Forensic Audit Division (FAD) released results of a full forensic audit of Harris County’s 2020 general election, citing “serious breaches,” that included chain of custody issues and violations of state and federal laws. But as election contests must be filed 45 days after canvass, there appears to be no legal remedy for the 2020 candidates.
The state agency also randomly selected Harris County for another round of audits that will encompass all elections since 2020, including the 2022 general election.
Prior to the election, polls had shown the race for Harris County judge in a statistical dead heat, and Mealer raised a whopping $8 million plus for her campaign. Despite falling short in the county’s reported results, Mealer outperformed statewide Republicans in Harris County with 49.15 percent of the vote.
In her victory speech, Hidalgo warned fellow Democratic officials who she said would not assist her re-election campaign and criticized District Attorney Kim Ogg, a fellow Democrat, for accusing the county of defunding law enforcement.
Earlier this week, Hidalgo made waves after arriving late to a swearing-in ceremony before delivering an impromptu and charged 10-minute speech in which she accused fellow Democratic commissioners of trying to cut her out of the program.
“You will not cut me out, you will not beat me down, you will not tell me to ‘sit down and shut up,’ as Lt. [Gov] Dan Patrick did,” an emotional and defiant Hidalgo shouted.
Hidalgo’s reference to Patrick stems from an incident at a February 2022 funeral for slain Harris County Constable Corporal Charles Galloway at which Hidalgo clashed with Patrick over her placement at the service.
On Wednesday, Hidalgo’s office announced she is now on a personal leave of absence and has gone to Colombia to be with her ill grandfather.
Last year, after three of her staff were indicted on felony charges, Hidalgo publicly stated that she expected to be indicted in relation to an $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract awarded to a one-woman firm owned by a highly-connected Democratic consultant.
As of Thursday night, 13 Republican candidates in Harris County had filed formal contests, but more are expected on Friday, January 6, the last day under state election code to do so.
Mealer’s lawsuit also requests that the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region assign the case to a special judge, since judges of Harris County’s district courts are disqualified to preside over any territory covered by a contested election.
“Unlike those holding office, I do not have the weight of government behind me to investigate the matters with the gravity and effort that reports of voter suppression justify but I do have the ability to exercise my legal rights as a candidate,” said Mealer.
“My decision to file an election contest is fundamentally about protecting the right to vote in free and fair elections. There aren’t a lot of things that Lina Hidalgo and I agree on but surely we can both agree that it is un-American to suppress votes.”
A redacted version of Mealer’s election contest petition can be found below.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.