The Texas state legislature is poised to pass a bill allowing the secretary of state to overturn election results in the state’s most populous county, only a few years after it turned blue.
On May 2, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed Senate Bill 1993, which, if it passes the state House as expected, would grant Secretary of State Jane Nelson (R) the authority to order a new election in counties with at least 2.7 million people if at least 2% of their polling places run out of ballots. Under these circumstances, only Harris County fits the bill.
Harris County, Texas, has a population of over 4.7 million people, which includes the city of Houston. It became the focus of right-wing uproar during the 2022 midterms, when polling places encountered technical difficulties—delayed polling site openings, a paper ballot shortage, and staffing issues—that state Republicans have characterized as “election improprieties.”
Harris County is also one of the most populous and diverse counties in the state, and it’s shifted blue over the past few years. Experts told TPM that SB 1993 is clearly a Republican attempt to regain control of a region that slipped out of its grasp.
As the most populous county in the state, election administrators have occasionally run into the kind of problems that often come up in counties with large urban populations on Election Day.
“Harris County elections have had room for improvement for a very long time,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee (D) told TPM. Last March, for example, County Supervisor of Elections Isabel Longoria announced that she would resign, a day after it was revealed that about 10,000 mail ballots weren’t counted in the primary election due to an “oversight.”
“Ultimately, the buck stops with me to address these issues and conduct elections on behalf of the voters,” she said during a tense county commissioners meeting. “I didn’t meet my own standards.”
But critics say that the state GOP only made such a fuss after Harris County began shifting blue.
“Republicans often want to take power from officials who are elected at a local level because we see the world differently than they do,” Menefee told TPM. “And they’re trying to supplant the will of the voters who put us in office to run local government out here in Harris County.”
Several major cities in Texas have shifted Democratic in the last two decades, but particularly since 2016, when former president Donald Trump took office and Harris County arguably first shifted from purple to blue.
That pattern continued in 2018 as counties that used to be reliably red flipped—thanks to a groundswell of support for Beto O’Rourke, who was then running to replace Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Since Cruz won reelection by only about two percentage points, Republicans have tried to tip the state’s elections back in their favor, Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, told TPM.
“There were attempts to change election rules, rules around the conduct of elections, rules around voting and how you can cast a vote that continue in this most recent bill material,” he said. “Republicans are saying given what we’ve seen, and given the changing demographics of Texas, we better try to get out in front of this before the entire state gets competitive.”
Correction: This article incorrectly identified Harris County’s population rank in the state. It is the most populous county in the state and third most populous county in the country. TPM regrets this error.