AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Shaking up elections in Texas’ largest county, the GOP-controlled Legislature on Tuesday approved abolishing a position in Harris County that oversees more than 2 million voters around Houston months before the city chooses a new mayor.
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At the same time, Republicans advanced a separate plan that would also have a singular impact on Harris County, a growing Democratic stronghold: allowing the state to take greater control over elections there if it is determined there is a “pattern of problems.”
The push by the state’s GOP majority resurfaced tensions over voting in the Texas Capitol, two years after Democratic lawmakers walked out for 93 days in protest of new voting restrictions that also targeted Harris County.
At the center of proposed changes this time is last year’s elections in Harris County, where local officials have acknowledged problems that included paper ballot shortages and delayed poll openings. Republican candidates have challenged losses in races across the county. There has been no evidence that the issues affected the outcomes.
The elections were run by Harris County’s elections administrator, a position created by the county in 2020. The bill headed to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would return elections oversight in the county to the tax assessor and county clerk, which are both elected offices currently held by Democrats.
“It’s not working in Harris County after multiple attempts,” Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain said of the county having an elections administrator.
The change would take effect Sept. 1. For more than an hour in the Texas House, Democrats raised concerns that would not give Harris County enough time to change oversight before November’s mayoral election and accused Republicans of singling out the county because it was shifting away from them.
“Your party loses elections, and you guys lose your mind,” Democratic state Rep. Jarvis Johnson said.
The election bills approved in the House would not apply to any of Texas’ 253 other counties. The Senate must still give final approval this week to the other measure that could allow the Secretary of State to intervene in Houston elections after investigating complaints.
In Georgia two years ago, Republican state lawmakers included a provision that could ultimately allow the state to take over a county’s elections. It was promptly used to target Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, with a bipartisan review panel appointed in August 2021 to evaluate the county’s election processes.
Another bill advanced Tuesday puts Texas on a path to leave a nationwide program that has a demonstrated record of combating voter fraud but has become a target of suspicion among GOP activists and former President Donald Trump.
Texas for years has been part of the Electronic Registration Information Center, more commonly known as ERIC, a bipartisan effort among states to ensure accurate voting lists. Texas lawmakers are moving to instead replace ERIC with another system, which has has yet to be identified or proven to work.
Other GOP-states have also pulled out of ERIC in recent months, including Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, and Louisiana.