In a statement released Monday, Abbott said he is calling on the secretary of state, the attorney general’s office, and the Texas Rangers “to initiate investigations into allegations of improprieties in the way that the 2022 elections were conducted in Harris County.”
“The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct. Voters in Harris County deserve to know what happened,” said Abbott.
His call stems from a chaotic Election Day in the state’s most populous county, which began with polling sites that opened hours late and then once open were unable to process voters due to inoperable voting machines.
During an Election Day press conference, newly appointed Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum told the media that in one instance there had been miscommunications about supply delivery and that a key to access equipment had gone missing for the BakerRipley Cleveland Campus. That site did not open until 11:00 a.m., and even after opening, equipment malfunctioned.
In addition, multiple polling locations ran out of paper ballots at some point during Election Day. According to Andy Taylor, an attorney representing the Harris County Republican Party, there were at least 23 locations that either completely ran out or came close to running out of supplies.
While some were allegedly able to borrow supplies from other polling sites, multiple locations were forced to turn away voters.
During an emergency hearing on election night, First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne admitted that the county had failed to resupply paper ballots for some locations.
“Why would it be that the only places that our investigation has shown thus far to not have enough paper to vote [were in] Republican stronghold precincts?” Taylor asked at a press conference last week.
In addition to the paper shortage, Taylor explained that elections workers had reported errors in handling ballots that were damaged or misfed at scanners. In some cases, if the second page failed to scan, voters were allegedly given new access codes to vote again and print new ballots to feed into scanners. If so, those voters would have voted twice in some contests.
A preliminary Harris County reconciliation report required by Texas election reforms passed last session indicated there were 6,405 more ballots cast than voters checked in, but a revised reconciliation report posted by the county has reduced the discrepancy to 2,712.
On Election Day, a local district court judge ordered polls in Harris County to remain open an extra hour due to delays in the morning. Her order was struck down by the Supreme Court of Texas, but thousands of voters were reportedly allowed to cast provisional ballots after the 7:00 p.m. cutoff.
On the following day, the county quietly obtained a second emergency order to allow them to continue to count ballots beyond the statutory deadline.
In a few Harris County contests, the candidates are separated by a few thousand votes. In the race for the 180th Criminal District Court, Democratic incumbent Judge DaSean Jones trails Republican challenger Tami C. Pierce by a mere 165 votes.
Following Abbott’s announcement, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office released a statement indicating they had received information regarding alleged improprieties in the conduct of Harris County’s election administration last week.
“Under Sec. 31.006 of the Texas Election Code, our office has referred that information to the Texas Attorney General’s office and the Harris County District Attorney’s office for investigation. Simultaneously, Harris County is already subject to the next round of post-election audits required under Sec. 127.351 of the Texas Election Code, so we will be collecting even more information to ultimately provide the public with greater clarity on the root causes of the issues witnessed in Harris County on Election Day.”
Tatum also responded to the investigation announcement saying his office is “fully committed to transparency regarding the processes and procedures implemented” for the Midterm Elections.
“As already established, Harris County has been selected to participate in the 2022 SOS Audit and has been in communication with the SOS Auditing team regarding this election. The office is currently completing vote tabulation of provisional ballots in preparation for the statutorily required manual count that must occur before canvassing,” said Tatum. “The office is currently reviewing issues and claims made about Election Day and will include these findings in a post-elections report to be shared promptly with the Harris County Elections Commission and the County Commissioner Court.”
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), a former Harris County voter registrar, told The Texan he welcomed the investigation, as his and other legislative offices had been flooded with complaints from election workers and voters about irregularities.
“I suspect many election contests will be filed,” said Bettencourt. “This is not about being an election denier, it is about actual reported voter irregularities. The cause of this must be determined.”
According to election code, for all county and precinct races, the county commissioners court will conduct the final canvass and certify the election. The state legislature conducts the canvass for the governor and lieutenant governor’s elections.
According to an advisory from the Texas Secretary of State’s Director of Elections Keith Ingram, canvassing may be completed any time between November 11 and 22, and any recount requests must be filed no later than 5:00 p.m. on the second day after the canvass is conducted.
Texas law also states that if a sufficient number of criminal complaints are received, either the district attorney or the attorney general’s office may impound ballots and election materials. Failure to distribute or deliver supplies, or obstructing distribution of supplies, are Class C misdemeanors.
Update: On Monday afternoon, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Tatum in his official capacity, alleging “multiple instances of ill-advised and illegal alterations of election procedures.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the governor’s office may impound ballots and election materials if a sufficient number of criminal complaints are received. We regret the error.
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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.