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Texas Passes Voting Bills Directed At Democratic Stronghold Harris County

Texas Republicans passed a voting bill that gives Secretary of State Jane Nelson the power under certain conditions to run elections in Harris County, a Democratic stronghold in an otherwise red state. A few days earlier, Texas Republicans also passed a voting bill to shift the oversight of Harris County elections from its appointed elections administrator to the county clerk and assessor.

The county — known for cities like Houston and for being the most populous Texas county with 4.8 million residents — was the only part of the state targeted by the bills.

Republicans argue that the law is necessary because of past election problems in Harris County. The county faced a poll worker shortage during the March 2022 primary. On Election Day, it failed to count about 10,000 mail-in ballots and experienced polling place problems, such as late openings and not enough physical ballots.

However, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and other Harris County officials have pointed out that other counties in Texas faced similar issues and aren’t being legislatively targeted.

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“[These bills] are entirely about suppressing voters’ voices,” Hidalgo, the county’s chief executive, said at a news conference last week.

Critics are also concerned about how the bills will affect Harris County. The county has to shift the oversight of its elections to the county clerk and county assessor on September 1, only a few weeks before Houston’s mayoral elections.

The most recently passed voting bill also gives Nelson the power to remove the county clerk and county assessor — Teneshia Hudspeth and Ann Harris Bennet, respectively — from office if she believed them to be unfit. Nelson could also oversee elections and install her staff in Harris County offices if she found problems with election administration.

Harris County officials have vowed to bring a lawsuit challenging the voting bills as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signs them into law. Their lawsuit will rely on the provision of the Texas Constitution that prevents the legislature from passing laws that apply to specific jurisdictions.

While the voting bills don’t mention Harris County by name, one bill is written to apply to counties of more than 3.5 million and the other bill is written to apply to counties of more than 4 million residents. Harris County is the only county that meets those thresholds.

The lawsuit ultimately protects Harris County from a “hit job against the largest blue county in Texas,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis concludes.

Viktoria Wulff-Andersen

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