(The Center Square) – The Texas Secretary of State’s Office released its preliminary findings of an audit of Harris County’s November 2022 election.
It did so after the legislature passed a bill filed by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, to address multiple election-related failures in Harris County and ensure the largest county in Texas properly manages elections.
After the Texas legislature passed the bill during the regular legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law. The county then sued but the Texas Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect Sept. 1.
“Harris County clearly had multiple failures conducting the election and violated election law for estimating needed ballot paper,” Secretary of State Jane Nelson said when publishing the audit. “Mistakes like these led to a poorly executed election which left many Harris County residents frustrated and may have prevented them from voting. It is important to talk about these issues now in order to address them before the 2024 election cycle.”
The audit found there were problems with the county’s voter registration data; the county failed to provide necessary supplies to polling places; and there were equipment issues and incomplete paperwork – all claims made by voters and in the lawsuits filed against the county.
The audit found:
At least 38 polling locations had no voter check-ins for at least an hour or more;the county’s voter registration system has over 9,000 more voters than were reported to the statewide voter registration system;nearly 3,600 mail ballots were sent to voters but weren’t reported to the state;the method the county used to determine distribution of ballot paper didn’t comply with state law, resulting in the voting process being disrupted and some polling locations not having enough supplies.
The audit also found that Harris County failed to adequately train election judges and clerks, which contributed to incomplete paperwork being filed and problems with voting system equipment.
Harris County was selected among four counties statewide to be audited as a part of a 2021 legislative mandate after voting irregularities and fraud concerns were raised after the 2020 election.
This year, the legislature passed Bettencourt’s bill to address election failures specifically related to Harris County and prevent them from occurring in other large counties in the state. The bill eliminated the elections administrator’s office created by the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, which Bettencourt and others argued contributed to voting irregularities and mishaps in the 2020 and 2022 elections. The new law returns election oversight and administration to the county clerk and tax assessor-collector offices, as it was prior to the commissioner’s court creating a new office.
After the findings were released, Bettencourt said, the audit “recognizes the obvious problems with Harris County’s November elections that lead to legislative changes, SB 1750, eliminating the Elections Administrator [position] and returning elections to the elected County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector. Having 9,000 more voters than were reported to the state system along with 3,600 more ballots sent out to voters but not reported to the state system are serious problems.”
The report also highlighted “the obvious huge problem with ballot paper distribution not complying with state law. This led to a disruption in the whole process and inadequate supplies at polling locations.” He pointed to the county’s election administrator leaving three million sheets of ballot paper in a warehouse and not transporting enough ballot paper to the polls. As a result, voters were turned away in violation of state law and a judge issued an emergency order to extend voting hours on election day.
This resulted “in voter suppression of thousands of votes,” Bettencourt said, adding, “Let’s hope we NEVER see that again in any major county in Texas.”
Multiple lawsuits were filed over the county’s election oversight and administrative failures including by Black conservatives, a Houston businessman and 17 judges. One of the plaintiffs launched Hardtovote.com to collect information from voters who “experienced difficulty with voting” in the November election.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has repeatedly said there was no voter fraud during the November election or any election and that lawsuits filed against the county are meritless.
Neither she nor the county attorney have yet to issue a statement on the audit’s findings.
Nelson said current elected officials have been cooperating with her office. Additional findings may be included in the final report as new information becomes available. She also said her office is working with county officials to address the problems identified in the audit.
Her office is also encouraging anyone with information about election irregularities they believe might have occurred in Harris County to submit a complaint to her office using the online election complaint form.