Elections 2022Local NewsEmbattled Elections Administrator Resigns, but Harris County GOP Proceeds With Lawsuit

The GOP will seek to force the county to turn back on the livestream of the vote counting and implement independent oversight of upcoming elections in Harris County.
March 9, 2022
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Following a week of public outcry and multiple lawsuits over primary election issues in the state’s largest county, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria submitted her resignation on Tuesday.

“Today I am submitting my resignation effective July 1. I think this date ensures that there’s a presiding officer during the major elections and allows the election commission the time they need to find a replacement,” Longoria said. “I remain committed to the office and its mission and hope to aid in defeating harmful radical rhetoric to ensure successful elections in the future.”

During a Wednesday morning press conference, however, Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) Chair Cindy Siegel announced that the party would continue to pursue its lawsuit over the election, noting that Longoria is slated to preside over the upcoming primary runoff and municipal elections in May.

HCRP attorney Steve Mitby said he would be going into an emergency hearing to request the court order an independent administrator to oversee the next Harris County election, and for the county to turn back on cameras live streaming the ballot counting process.

“We know there are 10,000 ballots that Harris County just found, that apparently had been lost, and they shut the cameras off when all this was going on,” said Mitby. “Under Texas law, Harris County is required to have a livestream and camera footage of all vote counting that’s going on.”

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“The only reason why they would have been shut off is because somebody in Lina Hidalgo’s office had something to hide.”

Following an emergency hearing Wednesday morning, district court Judge Fredericka Phillips ruled that the court would supervise the counting of votes and ordered Longoria to report again to the court at 7:00 p.m. 

Longoria said that cameras were not turned off but that the livestream was moved from the YouTube channel to another location on the Harris County website. Mitby told The Texan Longoria had not notified residents or observers of the change midway through the counting process.

He also refuted Hidalgo’s attempt to blame Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Texas GOP-backed election reform bill passed by the legislature in 2021.

“SB 1 did not cause the county to fail to deliver equipment, provide incorrect ballots, or supply the wrong sized paper. SB 1 did not delay the counting process or cause the county to lose ballots.”

Alan Vera, HCRP ballot security chair, added that another 175 uncounted ballots had been discovered Tuesday night. 

On primary election day, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced that Longoria had informed them she would not be able to comply with a 1986 state law requiring reporting of a full early vote and election day count within 24 hours of polls closing.

The Harris County Republican Party waited until within one hour of the deadline, but on observing the slow posting of returns, filed a lawsuit requesting a district court impound materials and oversee the remaining count. After Longoria’s office completed the count at approximately 1:00 a.m. Thursday, the party agreed to dismiss the case.

By Friday, however, due to new reconciliation requirements in state law approved in 2021, the secretary of state’s office discovered that Harris County officials had neglected to include more than 10,000 ballots in the reported counts.

On Saturday night, Longoria posted a statement about the issue on social media without informing the local Democratic and Republican parties, which contract with Harris County elections department to conduct the primaries.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners court, Judge Lina Hidalgo referenced both Texas’ election integrity law known as SB 1 and former President Trump in relation to the county’s election issues.

“The election was thrown into chaos the moment SB 1 passed the legislature,” said Hidalgo.

“Irrespective of one party’s efforts to try to weaken trust in the electoral system which had happened ever since Trump’s big lie…” said Hidalgo before being interrupted by jeers and moans from the public audience. 

“Irrespective of the efforts of one party to throw into question the integrity of our electoral system not just here in Texas, but all throughout the nation, we cannot afford…to have unforced errors,” Hidalgo began again. “I have spoken with Administrator Longoria. I’ve expressed my desire for a change in leadership.” 

Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) submitted an agenda item calling for an audit of the 2022 primary election, the termination of Longoria, and that the secretary of state monitor any proposed solution to the county’s election problems. 

The court’s three Democrats, Hidalgo, and Commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) voted down Ramsey’s motion. Instead, they overrode Ramsey and Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) to approve a motion from Hidalgo directing the offices of county administrator and county attorney to engage a third-party consultant to review elections operations and make recommendations “to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the remaining 2022 elections.”

Ellis also accused the Texas legislature of passing a “law to suppress the vote” in reference to strengthened identification requirements for use of mail ballots which has led to a higher rejection rate of such ballots.

The three Democrats also approved a motion from Garcia directing the county attorney’s office to investigate the so-called “pranks” Longoria had mentioned in a media interview last week as possible civil or criminal violations of law. Garcia’s motion also directs the county attorney to review mail ballot applications sent to the Secretary of State’s office and redirected to the county, and possible legal options against the voting machine vendor. 

During Wednesday’s press conference, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) noted that the requirements of SB 1 led to the discovery of missing votes in the results and emphasized the need for oversight of the county’s elections.

“But I don’t know if I can write a bill to legislate common sense and management oversight in an elections office that is incompetent, inexperienced, and disingenuous. That’s what we’re facing now in these May elections.”

Siegel lambasted Hidalgo for blaming Texas’ law, voters, and election workers.

“They want you to forget that they spent $13 million on this primary election, and they blew it.”

In addition to the HCRP case, Democratic and Republican candidates for a Harris County Commissioner’s Court precinct George Risner and Richard Vega, along with Republican candidate for Texas Senate District 11 Bianca Gracia, have also filed a lawsuit

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Holly Hansen

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.