Legislation set to pass the Texas Senate would give Gov. Abbott’s appointed Secretary of State authority to order new elections in Harris County.

The Texas Senate has passed legislation to allow Gov. Greg Abbott precedent-setting power to overturn elections in Harris County, in order to punish local officials for running out of ballot paper at some polling sites last year.

The legislation, which passed the Senate 19-12, would give Abbott’s appointed Secretary of State authority to order an entirely new election in Harris County if the county ever again runs out of paper at 2 percent or more of its polling sites for over an hour.

IN-DEPTH: GOP leaders say Harris County’s ballot shortage was targeted at Republicans. Here’s what the data says.

“There is no reason, there is no excuse why we can’t competently run our elections and have adequate ballot paper,” said State Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, a co-author of the bill whose district includes part of southeast Harris County.

The measure provoked outrage from outnumbered Democrats in the Texas Senate who blasted Middleton for trying to give the governor new authority to toss election results as President Donald Trump sought to do after he lost in 2020.

“You want to vest in a political appointee the ability to make a decision as to whether or not an election should be overturned and reheld,” State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, asked Middleton during a debate in the Senate on Monday.

LAST SESSION: Texas Republicans say lowering the bar for overturning elections is bad policy. So why did they try?

Middleton quibbled when West calling it overturning an election.

“I would disagree about overturning, you’re calling a new election so voters get to vote again,” Middleton said. “You get the opportunity to vote again. This is very different from the way you are describing it.”

Abbott’s current appointee is Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson, a former Republican state senator from Flower Mound.

Under current laws, the only way to get a new election in Texas is by turning to the courts. After the November election, 22 Harris County Republican candidates filed lawsuits challenging the election results. One case has already been tossed; the others are still pending.

Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, took offense to Middleton’s bill for only giving Abbott’s appointee the power to overturn an election in Harris County, the most populous of the state’s 254 counties. The cost of that new election would also be the responsibility of taxpayers in Harris County, which would cost millions of dollars.

“Does that seem kind of biased to you?” Miles said. “We’re just going to pick on my county?”

Middleton shot back that Harris is being targeted because it failed to do one of the most basic things required in an election.

“You’ve got to supply enough ballot paper,” Middleton said. “There’s no reason that should happen again. It’s really a simple thing. You just deliver enough paper.”

Harris County was a Republican stronghold as recently as 2014. But since then, Democrats have won the majority of county commission seats, the county judges office and swept nearly every judicial seat. Statewide candidates like Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who all have deep ties to Harris County, won the county in 2014. But all three have lost the county in recent years, narrowing the margins in their statewide re-elections.

While it is true Harris County had ballot paper shortages during the 2022 midterm elections that saw Judge Lina Hidalgo narrowly elected to a second term, a Houston Chronicle study found no evidence voters were systematically disenfranchised as some Republicans have claimed. Nor is there evidence the Election Day issues prompted people not to vote in numbers great enough to change the outcome of any of the races being contested.

Miles said Middleton is pushing legislation based on conspiracy theories in certain Republican circles that people were prevented from voting because of the paper issues. At the polls that ran out of paper, voters were directed to other polling places where they could cast their ballots.

“They never stopped letting people vote. That’s a fact,” Miles said.

Miles said instead of Middleton trying to overturn Harris County elections, he should focus on civil rights lawsuit that have been filed in his home county of Galveston accusing county commissioners of violating the Voting Rights Act of racial gerrymandering as they redrew commissioner districts.

“You’ve got a bill directly targeting Harris County, and you’ve got problems in your own damn district in Galveston — major problems,” Miles said.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee blasted the Middleton bill and others that are aimed at the county in the name of election integrity.

“They are not about making elections better,” Menefee said. “They are about targeting the largest county in the state, which is led by people of color. Laws that attack only one county are not only bad public policy, but also violate the Texas Constitution.”

County Commissioner Adrian Garcia called Middleton’s bill “election denial,” framing it as an attempt to overturn election results that Republicans don’t like.

“Call it for what it is. They’d rather be able to rig results than try to win fair and square,” Garcia said.

Despite those protests, the Democrats are largely powerless to stop the bill that easily passed the Senate and now goes to the Texas House, where Republicans also outnumber Democrats.

Source: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/politics/texas/article/texas-republicans-seek-overturn-elections-mishaps-18073334.php

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