“The thing that doesn’t make sense to me is for the state to single out Harris County for the kind of political stunt that we’re seeing,” said Hidalgo.
The state’s most populous county made headlines last week for delayed openings of polling sites, malfunctioning equipment, a shortage of paper ballots, and court orders to extend polling site hours and then to extend the counting of ballots beyond the statutory deadlines.
On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for 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.”
Also on Monday, the Harris County Republican Party held a press conference to announce they were filing a lawsuit seeking a court order to prevent the kinds of issues that occurred last week. In the filing, the party cites multiple allegations, including that county elections administrator Clifford Tatum altered procedures for handling ballot scanning malfunctions that may have led to some voters scanning the first page of the ballot twice.
Attorney Andy Taylor told reporters that the voting centers that had run out of paper ballots were in Republican portions of the county.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) said he appreciated Abbott for coming in to help the county figure out how to run elections, and questioned whether the elections commission headed by Hidalgo had done anything to address problems that have plagued county elections throughout the last year.
In her comments, Hidalgo said, “Everybody talks a good game when it comes to election workers, but the truth of the matter is the harassment that comes from the claims that are being made by state leaders down to local leaders amounts to harassing and threatening election workers.”
Hidalgo also blamed state law for limits on the kinds of machines that could be used, mandated use of paper ballots, limits on mail-in ballots, and blocks on drive-through and 24-hour voting.
To Ramsey Hidalgo said, “Be careful what you say sir, because the kind of furor that you’re continuing to encourage is not just theoretically dangerous, it is in real life a concern.”
Prior to Hidalgo’s comments, dozens of citizens were on hand to address the court, including several election judges and clerks, who described problems such as malfunctioning equipment, a shortage of paper ballots, and an unresponsive elections administration department.
One election worker told commissioners his low traffic voting location had 6,000 paper ballots on site, but that he never received any requests to transfer those ballots to locations with shortages. He also expressed frustration with Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) for busying himself with his phone and paperwork instead of paying attention to those on hand to address the court.
At times, those waiting called out to commissioners from the audience. At one point, Garcia called for a break, and he and Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) walked out of the meeting room. Ellis later instructed the court’s bailiff to remove any persons who were “disruptive.”
Claiming there did not seem to be “widespread system issues” with the elections, Hidalgo added, “We need to be respectful towards each other and we’re not going to allow the kind of nonsense that frankly could turn dangerous as we saw on January 6, 2021.”
Tatum delivered a report to commissioners acknowledging “there are few issues that have been identified,” and promised to conduct an analysis after the canvass of the election on November 22. He also described some delayed openings as mistakes in procedure by some election judges.
“At the end of the day the process relies on our [election] judges,” said Tatum, who also said that his elections administration department had not been given the financial resources it needed.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, the county budgeted $17 million to elections for the period of March through September 2022, and $31 million for that between October 2022 and September 2023.
While commissioners were meeting, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) announced they would be refiling legislation in response to the county’s election irregularities.
“Citizens should have absolute confidence in their elections, they should be able to show up to a polling location and cast their ballot without being undermined by incompetent government because that’s what democracy’s all about but that’s what’s being denied here,” said Bettencourt in a statement.
Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 220 and Swanson’s companion House Bill 549 would allow the secretary of state to appoint election marshals from the Department of Public Safety. Those marshals would be able to investigate potential voting violations as they occur and provide appointed emergency judges to hear cases quickly during early voting and on Election Day.
“I am proud to have filed HB 549 as the House version of Senator Bettencourt’s bill, which gives the Secretary of State the authority to send the Texas Rangers to stop election cheating as it happens and investigate active election fraud,” said Swanson in a statement.
Harris County is currently undergoing an audit of the 2020 general election, and was selected by the state for a full forensic audit after the conclusion of the November 2022 general election.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
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.