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Texas governor demands probe of Election Day issues in state’s biggest county

Harris County's massive midterms voting operation of 782 polling locations and around 11,000 voting machines caused headaches for its new elections administrator, with some precincts running out of ballot paper.

HOUSTON (CN) — The Republican governor of Texas called for an investigation Monday of Election Day problems in the state’s most populous county, a Democratic stronghold, including claims that GOP-leaning precincts were intentionally stuck with a shortage of ballot paper.

Fresh off his election to a third term in office, Greg Abbott, who has moved to the far right during his tenure in the governor’s mansion on the GOP red-meat issues of abortion, gun and voting rights, asked state officials to probe “election improprieties” in Houston’s Harris County.

"I'm 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," Abbott said in a statement.

"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. Integrity in the election process is essential. To achieve that standard, a thorough investigation is warranted,” he added.

Abbott nabbed 54.8% of the vote in the Nov. 8 midterms to win reelection and carried all but 19 of the state’s 254 counties. The counties that went for Abbott's Democratic opponent Beto O'Rourke include the left-leaning large metro areas of Dallas, El Paso, the state capital Austin and Houston.

Harris County hired Clifford Tatum, an attorney and former interim chief of Georgia’s elections, in August to replace Isabel Longoria as elections administrator after the March 1 primary in which the vote count was delayed because Longoria’s staff realized four days after the primary they had not counted 10,000 mail-in ballots.

Calling it the “worst election fiasco in Texas history,” the Harris County Republican Party sued Longoria in March over her problems managing the primaries, claiming she had disenfranchised voters and created significant risk of fraud and miscounting.

Despite his experience, Tatum also seemed unprepared to run the county’s massive voting operation, comprised of 782 polling locations, around 11,000 voting machines and some of the longest ballots in the nation, with voters making selections in 90 to 102 races and bond measures depending on where they live.

Texas polls are supposed to close at 7 p.m. on Election Day but a state judge ordered them to stay open an hour longer in Harris County due to problems with broken voting machines, ballot scanners and, according to the Harris County Republican Party, more than 20 precincts running out of ballot paper, 19 of them in GOP-majority precincts.

State Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, said he supports Abbott’s call for a probe, and he suspects the issues will lead many losing GOP candidates to contest the results.

“This is the worst Election Day ever by a major county election’s department that I’ve seen in my lifetime. … This is not about being an election denier. It is about actual reported voter irregularities. This is about voter suppression because it’s simply unbelievable that in the 21st century, citizens show up to vote and can’t their ballots,” Bettencourt said on Twitter.

Tatum assured voters Monday he will fully comply with any state investigation.

“The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office is fully committed to transparency regarding the processes and procedures implemented for the November 8, 2022, Midterm Elections.  … 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,” he said in an emailed statement.

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