Elections 2022JudicialLocal NewsGOP Judicial Candidate Behind by Less than One Percent Files Election Contest in Harris County Court

Citing 19 alleged violations of election code, a Republican candidate who lost by 0.26 percent is seeking a new election in Harris County.
December 8, 2022
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A Republican judicial candidate who trails her Democratic opponent by less than 1 percent filed an election contest in Harris County Wednesday, seeking to have a court declare the election void.

In the race for the 189th District Criminal Court, Harris County shows that Democrat Tamika Craft defeated Republican Erin Lunceford by 2,743 votes of 1,064,677 cast, or just 0.26 percent. But Lunceford’s lawsuit cites 19 examples of alleged violations of the Texas election code that would make the true outcome unknown.

During a press conference Wednesday, Lunceford’s attorney Andy Taylor, an election lawyer who worked on President George W. Bush’s legal team in Florida in 2000, said of the multiple issues with Harris County’s elections, “In my three and a half decades I’ve been doing this I’ve never seen a case that was easier to win than this one.”

Taylor displayed a map of 26 locations that turned away voters on Election Day; most of them had run out of paper ballots, and one suffered from malfunctioning equipment. According to Taylor, nearly 80 percent of those locations were in Republican-leaning portions of the county. He calculated that more than 3,000 voters were turned away from those locations.

Map of Harris County polls that turned away voters, courtesy of the Harris County Republican Party.
Map of Harris County polls that turned away voters, courtesy of the Harris County Republican Party.

Exacerbating the problem, late on Election Day, a district court judge ordered Harris County polls remain open an extra hour. Taylor pointed out that not all locations remained open, and for those without supplies or functioning equipment, the extra hour did not allow for late voting.

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The votes cast by those who got in line after 7:00 p.m. were supposed to be provisional, but according to Lunceford’s lawsuit, some judges allowed those voters to cast regular ballots and some failed to segregate the after-hours provisional ballots in accordance with an order from the Supreme Court of Texas.

Taylor also alleged that mail ballots pose an additional problem partially because Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum’s staff did not use the signature verification process required by Texas election code for at least 700 ballots.

In a bombshell revelation, Taylor also noted that the county’s election reconciliation reports show that the mail ballots counted exceed the number of mail ballots received. The county has now produced three versions of the report, with the most recent showing that while 54,952 mail ballots were received, 61,264 mail ballots were counted.

In a more complicated problem, Taylor alleges Tatum deviated from proper procedures in correcting ballot scan failures at polling sites. If the second page of the ballot did not scan then that page was supposed to have been placed in an emergency chute to be tabulated at central count later, but Tatum instructed workers to have the voter re-vote with another ballot serial number and then scan the second page. That included the race for the 189th District Court.

In some locations, instead of placing the unscanned second pages into a “spoiled ballot” envelope, election workers placed them into the emergency chute and allowed the voter to place a new second page in the scanner, effectively allowing that voter to vote twice on all second page contests.

Further complicating matters, the county is refusing to turn over election documents sought through Public Information Act requests and has appealed to the Office of the Attorney General to block their release.

“This is not about being an election denier,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who is also the former Harris County voter registrar.

“This is about thousands of real voter irregularities in this county. They never should have happened, but they happened with a minimum, absolute gross incompetence, or [with] malevolence, and that’s what this lawsuit will find out. The public deserves to know.”

Lunceford’s lawsuit also alleges that Tatum did not follow the law in using a list of election workers submitted by the Republican Party and did not have a balance of Democratic and Republican judges at several locations.

The county also allegedly violated election code in instructing election judges to leave equipment operating and unsecured on the last night of early voting, purportedly to give technicians access to voting equipment prior to Election Day.

Other allegations cited include voters being registered only at a post office box, votes being cast by suspended voters without an accompanying Statement of Residence, and failure to maintain documentation or standards for chain of custody of ballots.

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office will conduct a full forensic audit of Harris County’s elections from November of 2020 to the present, and the district attorney’s office is conducting a criminal investigation with the assistance of the Texas Rangers.

“I want to send a message to the Harris County elections administrator,” said Taylor. “Mr. Tatum, your day of reckoning has just started.”

Lunceford is the second Harris County candidate to file an election contest. Republican Mike May is contesting his loss to incumbent state Rep. Jon Rosenthal for House District 135, but that contest will be taken up by a special committee of state legislators.

In another narrowly decided judicial contest purportedly impacted by the same issues cited by Lunceford, incumbent Judge DaSean Jones leads Republican challenger Tami Pierce by just 449 votes. On the morning after the election Pierce led by 1,200 votes, but late-counted mail and provisional ballots flipped the race.

The Harris County Republican Party has also filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Tatum’s procedures in future elections, but only candidates can file election contests seeking to void the election.

Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel indicated there will be more contests filed soon.

“During the last month, we’ve had a lot of our candidates that were in very close races that have been talking to us wanting to know the information that we’ve accumulated and have reported.”

Lunceford’s contest will proceed through the state’s civil court system and could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court of Texas. If she is successful, her election will be declared void and a new election will be ordered, but only for her race.

“As a judge and a trial lawyer for 34 years, I believe you should follow rules and this is an example of people not following rules and a result where we all question whether our vote mattered,” said Lunceford.

“It’s about Harris County being the third largest county in America but becoming a third world country in election results,” said Bettencourt. “This should never happen again.”

A copy of the reconciliation report can be found below.

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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.