Elections 2022Local NewsGOP House Candidate Contests Election Results, Citing Harris County Election Troubles

Citing Harris County’s paper ballot shortage that halted voting at multiple sites, Mike May is contesting his loss to Rep. Jon Rosenthal.
December 6, 2022
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A Houston area Republican candidate who lost by more than 6,000 votes has filed a formal election contest, claiming Harris County’s paper ballot shortages invalidate the election for a Texas House seat.

Mike May of Cypress sought to unseat incumbent Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Jersey Village) for Texas House District (HD) 135 in northwest Harris County, but according to the canvassed results, Rosenthal won with more than 57 percent of the vote.

May’s November 29 filing with the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) argued that “eligible voters” could not vote on Election Day “because numerous polling locations in Harris County, Texas did not have any paper ballots when those voters arrived to vote, so they left the polling locations without voting.”

Harris County, home to more than 2.4 million registered voters, made national news in the aftermath of the 2022 general election due to a slew of missteps that included missing and malfunctioning equipment, delayed polling site openings, and a shortage of paper ballots at multiple locations.

Voters and election workers were further confused by a local district court judge who ordered polls to remain open until 8:00 p.m. that night, although later the Supreme Court of Texas stayed the order and required the county to segregate ballots cast by those who entered lines after 7:00 p.m. The state’s highest court has not yet ruled on whether those ballots are legitimate.

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Although state election code requires early votes and Election Day votes to be counted and reported 24 hours after polls close, and the election division announced that part of the count was complete on the morning of November 9, Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 2) later successfully sued to allow the county to continue the count beyond the deadline.

On the Monday following the election, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation. A few days later, District Attorney Kim Ogg formally requested assistance from the Texas Rangers in investigating criminal complaints related to the county’s elections.

According to the Harris County Republican Party, which has also filed a lawsuit over the county’s management of elections, 23 polling places ran low or completely ran out of paper ballots on Election Day, with most of those sites clustered in Republican areas of the county.

Among concerns cited by Republicans are a series of Harris County election reconciliation reports, the first of which showed 6,405 more ballots cast than voters checked in. A third version of the reconciliation report was revised to show 1,109 more voters checked in than ballots cast.

The county has not yet provided an explanation for the discrepancies.

In addition to the formal investigations, the SOS will conduct a full forensic audit of all Harris County’s elections conducted from the 2020 general election to the present.

According to state election code, Rosenthal has seven days to respond after receiving his notification from the SOS. Mays will then have three days to post a $5,000 bond.

A contested state House election must be referred to the House speaker, who then must assemble a select committee and appoint a special master to review the evidence. After review, the special master must report to the committee whether he or she found the contest “frivolous” or has enough evidence to proceed.

In 2010, Republican candidate Dan Neil filed an election contest after losing to state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) by a spare 12 votes in the race for House District 48. In the end, the special election contest committee ruled Howard had won by just four votes.

In 2020, Republican candidate Justin Ray lost to Rosenthal by 300 votes, but since redistricting, The Texan’s Texas Partisan Index gives HD 135 a rating of 62 percent favorable to Democrats.

May did not respond to request for comment, but on social media has called the county’s election management “a blatant disenfranchisement of citizens’ right to vote.” He is also asking for donations to support his efforts, saying he expects legal costs to land somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000.

In a statement, Rosenthal condemned the formal contest as “a frivolous exercise that is more a political stunt than any type of serious complaint or concern,” and said that with the 6,109-vote margin, “There simply is no numerical possibility to change the will of the voters.”

Other races in Harris County have resulted in narrower margins, with District Criminal Court Judge DaSean Jones winning by 449 votes over Republican Tami C. Pierce. Other judicial races were separated by margins of less than one percent, such as the 189th District Criminal Court between Democrat Tamika Craft and Republican Erin Lunceford.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) told The Texan that other candidates could file contests in the next few weeks.

While House candidates have only a seven-day window to file a contest following the official canvass, other candidates have a 45-day window.

Should a judicial candidate file a formal contest, the matter will go to a local district court but be assigned to a visiting judge rather than a locally elected judge.

May did not win the 2022 Republican primary contest for HD 135, but winner Stephen Hagerty was disqualified for not residing in the district, and Harris County Republican precinct chairs from HD 135 voted to place May on the ballot last summer.

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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.