Elections 2022JudicialLocal News‘Mattress Mack’ Files Lawsuit Against Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office

Harris County has sought to block the release of the election administrator’s communications as well as other records related to the 2022 general election.
February 14, 2023
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Plagued by audits, lawsuits, a criminal investigation, and multiple election contests, Harris County now faces a new lawsuit filed by popular Houston icon Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino.

During a press conference Tuesday with attorney Jeff Diamant, McIngvale and Dolcefino announced they are seeking to force the release of elections-related documents and records normally available under the Texas Public Information Act but blocked by the county.

“The people of Harris County are concerned about this election,” said McIngvale. “This isn’t about political parties, this is about the election process. We want to make the election process fair for everybody.”

According to the lawsuit, Dolcefino has submitted legal requests for detailed phone records of Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum for the past several months; all email communications sent or received by Tatum on Election Day; and all email communications with Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ (Pct. 1) office since August 1, 2022.

Dolcefino also sought election machine maintenance and testing documentation, the amount of ballot paper provided to each precinct, the number of voters who voted at each precinct in previous elections, written complaints filed, and communications regarding the secretary of state’s audit of elections.

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While partially complying with the record requests, Harris County sought permission from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to withhold much of the information due to pending lawsuits. Paxton’s office has not yet ruled on whether the county may withhold the records from the public.

“Harris County voters have a right to know right now what went wrong and whether or not Clifford Tatum, who is the election administrator who has a history of botched elections, botched this one,” said Dolcefino.

Prior to replacing Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, Tatum served as the Washington D.C. executive director of elections, where he was roundly criticized for operations in 2012. In 2019, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission chose not to reappoint Tatum as general counsel after complaints about his performance.

Harris County drew national media attention on Election Day 2022 when multiple sites delayed their openings due to missing or malfunctioning equipment and staff that did not show up for work — an issue Tatum has partially blamed on the Houston Astros’ World Series championship parade the day before. Later in the day, multiple voting sites reported running out of paper ballots, and a recent analysis from KHOU News alleges that the county only provided about half of the paper ballots needed by at least 121 voting centers.

Late on Election Day, a civil rights group filed a lawsuit claiming the delayed openings suppressed votes and requested extended hours. A local district court judge ordered polls in the county to remain open an extra hour, but many election workers say they were not notified, with some alleging they did not receive paper ballots needed until well after 7 pm. The Supreme Court of Texas later overturned the local judge’s decision and ordered the provisional ballots cast by after-hours voters to be kept separately. The court has not ruled on whether those late votes are valid.

Following the election, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit seeking to bind the county in future elections. Twenty-one candidates have election contests pending before visiting Judge David Peeples of San Antonio.

In the most recent hearing for the election contests, the defendants’ attorneys asked Peeples to delay the trial until after the May 2023 elections.

Most of the candidates contesting the election are represented by attorney Elizabeth Alvarez, who has won multiple election contests in Texas. Alvarez told The Texan that her cases are based on allegations of voter suppression caused by effectively closing voting sites on Election Day due to malfunctioning equipment and the ballot paper shortage that prevented voting.

If the election contests succeed, Peeples will order new elections, but has warned that any decision is likely to be appealed.

The next hearing for the election contests is set for Thursday, February 16.

Diamant suggested the county was trying to manage communications like a private company.

“They want to take defensive positions to things that have happened as if they’re a private company trying to protect their profits and to protect their business,” said Diamant. “In what universe should any governmental office operate that way? They are here to serve the public.”

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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.