88th LegislatureElections 2022Elections 2023State HouseStatewide NewsBill to Give State Power to Take Control of Harris County Elections Moves Forward in Texas House

The Texas House also passed a measure to give the Texas Secretary of State more flexibility in verifying voter registration data.
May 23, 2023
The Texas House passed two election reform bills by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R‐Houston), including one to allow the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) to take charge of county election administration in instances where evidence points to a “pattern” of misconduct or other election irregularities.

SB 1933 would allow the SOS to exercise “administrative oversight” over county elections if there are credible complaints of irregularities. Its House sponsor is Rep. Tom Oliverson (R‐Cypress). House members passed the bill to third reading by a vote of 82 to 63 after amending the bill to apply only to counties with a population of 4 million or more, which would only include Harris County.

Bettencourt’s bill would require the SOS to provide notice to a local election official that it had received a complaint and give the official 30 days to respond. However, the official would be required to respond within 72 hours if in‐person voting is underway and the votes have not been tabulated.

The SOS would be required to conduct an investigation to determine whether there is evidence of a “recurring pattern of problems” with the county’s administration of elections. Possible violations could include late submission of canvassed results, failure to properly maintain voter registration rolls, and failure to count all properly cast ballots.

The bill analysis references the resignation of former Harris County election administrator Isabel Longoria, who admitted shortcomings in the performance of her duties. The document also alluded to 10,000 ballots excluded from Harris County’s results on primary day in 2022, one of the events that precipitated Longoria’s resignation.

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In the November general election, Harris County was the only county that failed to submit its election results by the statutory deadline.

Reps. Jarvis Johnson (D‐Houston) and Ron Reynolds (D‐Missouri City) unsuccessfully attempted to halt consideration of SB 1933 by raising points of order.

While Oliverson accepted a series of amendments, the chamber rejected some amendments by Democrats, including one by Rep. Victoria Neave (D‐Dallas) that would have added elements of judicial review to the bill.

The chamber approved an amendment by Rep. John Bucy III (D‐Austin) that only a “person who participated in the relevant election” can bring complaints against election officials under the bill. Those individuals include candidates, chairs of political parties, presiding judges, alternate presiding judges, or heads of political action committees.

On Monday, House members passed another bill to third reading, SB 1750, to abolish Harris County’s office of election administrator and transfer its responsibilities to the county clerk and county tax assessor‐collector.

Rep. Briscoe Cain (R‐Houston) is the primary House sponsor for SB 1750, though several other Harris County Republicans signed their names to the legislation. Cain characterized his bill as a response to Longoria’s mismanagement of the election administration office.

During Cain’s layout of the bill, Johnson said from the back microphone that Republicans are “picking on Harris County.”

Bettencourt celebrated his bills in a social media post after the House moved them forward.

“MAJOR VICTORY for Harris County voters tonight!!! The Texas House passed my SB 1750, carried by (Cain), on 2nd reading to eliminate the Elections Administrator position & return the management of elections in Harris County BACK to the elected county clerk and tax assessor‐collected,” Bettencourt wrote.

“Then (Oliverson) just passed SB 1933 that gives (SOS) oversight of Election officials in the State. Both bills passing means the botched 2022 elections in Harris County shouldn’t happen again!”

Harris County Republican Party Chairwoman Cindy Siegel said the county’s election administration office has been a “colossal failure” and thanked Bettencourt for shepherding SB 1750 through the Legislature.

The chamber also passed a bill to give the SOS more flexibility to use private vendors and discontinue participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center.

SB 1070 was scuttled by points of order raised by Rep. Mihaela Plesa (D‐Dallas). With a revised bill analysis, lawmakers passed the bill to engrossment Monday by a vote of 86 to 60.

Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo criticized the Legislature for crafting laws to apply only to her county, which she called “the engine of growth and opportunity for Texas.”

“If this is allowed to happen in Texas, it will be copied to other states. I can’t think of something more anti-democratic,” Hidalgo said.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."