A new Texas law that changes voting rules in the populous city of Houston has been called unconstitutional by a state court, according to an injunction issued Monday.
On June 18, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed into law Senate Bill 1750, which abolishes the position of “elections administrator” that had previously overseen elections in Harris County, which includes the City of Houston. The state then was sued by left-wing and Democratic groups, arguing that the bill would adversely affect the city’s mayoral election being held this November, which led to a state judge imposing a temporary injunction Monday evening. (RELATED: ‘No Evidence Whatsoever’: Lawyers For Impeached Republican AG Want Almost All Charges Against Him Dismissed)
“For nearly 100 years, the Texas Constitution has prohibited laws that can only ever apply to one locale. And that’s because legislators are supposed to be passing laws that benefit the entire state of Texas,” said Democratic County Attorney Christian Menefee of Harris County, who challenged the law on behalf of the jurisdiction, according to Houston Public Media. “At the end of the day, we know that this is not about making elections better for the Republican Party. It’s about undermining confidence in our elections.”
Same document (the official vote count for the November ‘22 election), yet two different numbers for mail ballots.
I will stop asking questions when Harris County starts answering some basic questions. pic.twitter.com/AkW3Wy9fxG
— Alexandra del Moral Mealer (@alexmealer) August 13, 2023
While Bill 1750 does not mention Harris County by name, it would apply only to counties with “a population of more than 3.5 million,” according to the bill’s text, of which Harris County is the only such jurisdiction in the state. The law, which was set to take effect on Sept. 1, would have transferred the power to oversee elections in the county to the tax assessor and the county clerk, offices that are currently held by Democrats.
“Without this order, the state … will likely disrupt the upcoming election and cause havoc … and Harris County’s entire election apparatus would be thrown into disarray,” wrote Texas District Judge Karin Crump of Travis County, a Democrat first elected in 2014, who issued the injunction pending final litigation, agreeing with an argument by the plaintiffs that the county did not have the time to set up a proper elections infrastructure in time for the election on Nov. 7, 2023.
“You have given the county over 90 days to make this transition. They have apparently chosen not to use any of the time to make the transition, but just to go ahead and appeal it,” said Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Texas’ 7th House District, who sponsored the bill, Houston Public Media Reported.
In 2022, Harris County faced significant issues while conducting its elections, including long wait times, paper ballot shortages and problems with voting machines, the Texas Tribune reported. In 2022, several Republican candidates sued the county, arguing that its election management unfairly contributed to their losses.
Houston’s nonpartisan mayoral election is a close contest between Democratic Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, who is retiring from Congress after 28 years of representing the area, and Democratic State Sen. John Whitmire of Texas’ 15th Senate District, with Whitmire leading Jackson Lee by 2 percentage points in a University of Houston poll.
The Texas attorney general’s office has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Texas. “The legislature had a reasonable basis for the law: Harris County is the most populous county in Texas, and, as such, has an outsized statewide impact on elections, a consideration enhanced by the county’s past significant difficulty with election administration,” it wrote in a press release, adding that “SB 1750 is still scheduled to take effect September 1.”
This article has been updated with comment from the Texas attorney general’s office.
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