Texas House passes election reform legislation

The Secretary of State’s office audited Harris County’s 2020 election process and identified “very serious issues” with its electronic voting system.

Published: May 23, 2023 11:01pm

(The Center Square) -

The Texas House passed two key election reform bills after they passed the Senate last month. Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed both bills to prevent election irregularities that occurred in Harris County over the last two election cycles from occurring again or from being replicated in other counties.

Bettencourt introduced the election reform bills after allegations of widespread fraud were made after the 2020 and 2022 elections in Harris County and numerous lawsuits were filed stemming from Democratic officials changing election management procedures.

“Both bills passing means the botched 2022 elections in Harris County shouldn't happen again,” Bettencourt tweeted after the vote. He said the bills passing was a “MAJOR VICTORY for Harris County voters” and a “HUGE public policy win for voters in Harris County and statewide for election systems integrity.”

SB 1750, carried by Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and SB 1933, carried by Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, in the House, both passed Monday night.

SB 1933 gives the Texas Secretary of State oversight of election officials statewide.

SB 1750 eliminates the elections administrator position that Harris County illegally created, Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued, and returns the management of elections to an elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector.

After Democratic Harris County Commissioners created the elections administrator position and spent tens of millions of dollars overhauling the county’s election system, at least 10,000 ballots weren’t counted in the March 2022 primary election and the first administrator they hired was forced to resign. The new administrator presided over widely reported voting irregularities and alleged disenfranchisement of voters after paper ballots sitting in a warehouse weren’t delivered to mostly Republican precincts, electronic machines jammed and voters were turned away from polling locations in the November 2022 election.

After numerous lawsuits were filed, he still remains in office.

Ahead of the 2022 election, the offices of the secretary of state and attorney general sent an election integrity unit to observe and monitor voting processes. This was after the Secretary of State’s office audited Harris County’s 2020 election process and identified “very serious issues” with its electronic voting system.

In response to the bills passing, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, who maintains no widespread voter fraud has occurred, said, “Republican legislators are again targeting Harris County, singling us out to score cheap political points. This sets a dangerous precedent, and we all know the legislators in Austin won’t stop here – this will lead to more attempts to remove local officials in the state’s most diverse counties,” without mentioning which local officials have already been removed.

The Texas Rangers last year launched an investigation into three employees working for Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo over their alleged involvement in reportedly awarding a taxpayer-funded multi-million-dollar contract to a company with reported ties to Democratic Party operatives.

Hidalgo, and the staffers’ attorneys, maintain they followed the law. Three, including Hidalgo’s chief of staff, were indicted.

Once Gov. Greg Abbott signs the bills into law, which he’s expected to do, Harris County is expected to sue.

Menefee said on Monday, “I want to be clear: this fight is not over. We are evaluating our legal options and expect to share more later this week. We cannot and will not allow the state to illegally target Harris County.”

State investigations have not only targeted Harris County, according to a recent state audit. The Secretary of State’s Forensic Audit Division performed a full forensic audit of the 2020 General Election in Collin, Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant counties.

Tarrant and Collin counties represent the largest Republican-controlled counties; Harris and Dallas represent the largest Democratic-controlled counties.

“This approach ensures that the State of Texas can provide an honest, transparent assessment of county election offices overseen by both political parties,” the FAD report states.

“Harris County had very serious issues in the handling of electronic media,” the audit found. “These issues were so severe that FAD notified Harris County of our preliminary findings by letter prior to the 2022 General Election.”

Key findings included: “in at least 14 polling locations, mobile ballot boxes (MBBs) containing 184,999 cast vote records included in the tally did not have proper chain of custody;” county officials weren’t “able to provide documentation for the creation of 17 MBBs accounting for 124,630 cast vote records;” electronic poll book records from at least 26 early voting locations and eight election day polling locations didn’t match the Tally Audit Log for those locations; Harris County officials didn’t have an inventory of their warehoused records for the 2020 General Election; 534 boxes were counted but didn’t include all records or their labels didn’t match their contents, among other discrepancies.

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