Fueled by Donald Trump’s lies about election fraud, the last session of the Texas Legislature saw the enactment of many laws that produced barriers to voting, including laws that make it harder for disabled and elderly voters to cast their ballots.
Now, questions regarding the conduct of elections in Harris County during the November 2022 election are spurring Republican legislators to once again consider laws that will intimidate voters in the name of “election integrity” or “election security.”
Harris County has struggled to conduct its elections smoothly. The county, which has 2.5 million registered voters and more than 700 polling places, has had three different election administrators since 2020. When Harris County election officials creatively introduced methods to make voting safe during the pandemic, such as by offering 24-hour voting and drive-thru polling places, those election officials found themselves the subject of lawsuits and legislation in which those very measures were vilified, with laws prohibiting those innovations adopted during the last legislative session.
In November 2022, several Harris County polling places were reported to have been running low on paper needed to print ballots, although there is no report that any voters were prevented from voting due to this alleged paper shortage. Additionally, several Harris County voting centers opened late due to missing keys for the voting machines. This resulted in emergency lawsuits and intervention by the Texas Supreme Court.
In order to address these issues, Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt is proposing that Texas county elections offices and their election administrators be dissolved. Under this proposal, the local tax assessor-collector would be in charge of voter registration and local county clerks would be in charge of elections.
If there is a problem with a vital part of our state government, disbanding that department and placing its duties in unrelated departments already overwhelmed in a huge county is not the solution to the problem.
A better solution to this problem would be to install a tracking system at the Harris County Elections Office to monitor technical problems and supply issues with a rapid response system in place to address problems that will undoubtedly arise in elections in a large population area. Dallas and Tarrant counties have such tracking systems in place.
A problem in one county, especially with the apparent absence of a single voter proving that his/her vote did not count because of that problem, should not result in such a punitive measure being imposed on the remaining Texas counties.
Published in the Waco Tribune-Herald on 1/31/2023