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Harris County sues over Texas election law; bill’s author calls lawsuit ‘frivolous’

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(The Center Square) – Harris County on Thursday sued over a new state law addressing election-related failures in the county and preventing them from being replicated in other counties. The bill’s author says the lawsuit is frivolous.

HB 1750, filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, passed the legislature during the regular legislative session and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law on June 18. The bill is set to go into effect Sept. 1.

After the bill passed, Bettencourt said it would “restore voter trust, accountability, and transparency in Harris County elections by returning the management of elections back to elected officials.

“An appointed Elections Administrator that either couldn’t or wouldn’t get millions of sheets of ballot paper from the warehouse to the polls for voters to vote on, on November 8th, will be gone by September 1. … Now voters in Harris County can be assured that the officials running their elections are elected and accountable to the public.”

Last month, Harris County officials said they planned to sue, claiming the new law was unconstitutional. On Thursday, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said the county sued, challenging the constitutionality of SB 1750.

“The Texas Constitution prohibits the Legislature from passing laws that apply to only one county and can never apply to other counties,” Menefee said at a news conference in Houston. “That’s exactly what Senate Bill 1750 is because it abolishes the elections administrator office in only Harris County. Harris County is one of the most diverse counties in the state. We can’t and won’t allow legislators in Austin to target us to disrupt our elections and undermine our local officials. If people out there want to ignore the constitution and allow far-right lawmakers to go after us in this way, Harris County residents deserve to know. We’ll see what the courts say.”

The lawsuit, filed in the District Court of Travis County, asks the court to issue a temporary injunction blocking the law from going into effect. The temporary block would enable the elections administrator to oversee early voting scheduled for this November when voters will be asked to decide on statewide constitutional amendments, countywide bond propositions, and municipal races for the city of Houston, including Houston’s new mayor.

Menefee asked the court to schedule a hearing on the matter in the next few weeks.

Bettencourt said the lawsuit was “another frivolous lawsuit by Harris County against the State of Texas.” The new law “is about performance NOT politics,” he said, and the legislature passed it in direct response to “election fiascos” created by county elections administrators and other appointed elected officials.

After the Democratic-led commissioner’s court created the new position, which the Attorney General argued was created outside of the law, numerous problems occurred in the primary and general elections in 2020 and 2022 in Harris County. In 2020, the newly appointed election administrator lost over 10,000 ballots, and despite spending tens of millions of dollars on new machines and equipment couldn’t tally the votes in accordance with state law, prompting her forced resignation. Multiple lawsuits were also filed over a range of irregularities including pop-up mobile voting stations at which voter fraud was reported and millions of absentee ballot application forms the county mailed, which the Texas Supreme Court ruled was illegal.

A 2021 audit by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office also found that Harris County had an improper chain of custody of nearly 185,000 vote records from the November 2020 election and reported many other problems.

After the first county election administrator resigned, under the next administrator during the November 2022 election, voters were turned away from polling stations primarily in Republican districts, voting machines jammed, didn’t have paper, and other problems were reported. Despite a judge extending polling hours, and despite the state sending election integrity task forces to ensure irregularities didn’t occur, widespread problems and lack of access to voting were reported. Seventeen judges who lost their races sued, claiming they lost because of problems they allege the administrator created. After the election, primarily Black voters protested, alleging voter fraud occurred and their votes had been stolen.

“The fact that the first Harris County appointed EA had to resign due to problems in the primary seems to escape any mention by the County Attorney and Commissioners Court in this lawsuit,” Bettencourt said. “The current Harris County appointed EA has yet to provide a deposition in the 17 election contests so the public would finally know what happened in the Nov 8th 2022 election. However, dozens of polling places running out of ballot paper and machine difficulties is no longer debatable. The question is WHY?”

Bettencourt said, “the public will be far better served by elected officials that followed the election code in the past, and will do so in future elections, thus regaining confidence of the voters in the elections process and that’s what SB 1750 is all about.”

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