Texas officials have responded with urgency to complaints about problems in Harris County’s elections, a response civil rights groups say is very different from reporting ballot obstructions.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has called for a criminal investigation into the troubles in the largely Democratic county, saying there have been “confusion and delays, missing keys, inadequate ballots in Republican counties, staffing issues and more.” He said the problems could range from misconduct to criminal behavior.
But the urgency attributed to Election Day troubles comes in a state sued by civil rights activists, constituency groups and the Justice Department over a sweeping election law Abbott signed into law last year. The process is pending.
Republican Senator Paul Bettencourt, the former Harris County election administrator, announced this week that he has resubmitted a bill that proposes creating “election marshals” made up of law enforcement officials. He wants to send them to polling stations on election days to investigate “potential voting rights violations.”
Civil rights groups have long complained of long lines, inadequate voting machines in predominantly Latino and black areas, voter intimidation, and other problems. Prairie View A&M students have repeatedly protested election-day issues, and in 2020, black and Hispanic voters in Harris County faced long waits. The state was ranked at the bottom end for ease of voting.
In 2019, several civil rights and other groups sued Texas to stop the delisting of 100,000 people after they questioned their citizenship status based on flawed law enforcement records.
“There is clearly a double standard,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“Of course we believe that the government should take every step to facilitate the participation of all those entitled,” Saenz said. “The state of Texas has gone in the opposite direction.”
Daniel Griffith, senior policy director at Secure Democracy, which focuses on improving voting and voter access, said the “energetic campaign” Texas officials and the GOP are waging is “even to the level of law enforcement involvement.” and criminal justice rises”. is about problems that are common in elections and that, at face value, “sound like the typical snafus that happen on election day”.
Andy Taylor, the attorney representing Harris County Republicans, disagrees that the county’s blunders are isolated and innocent. He called it a total system failure.
Taylor said that based on his preliminary investigation, some losing candidates will contest their election results.
Taylor alleges that some people voted twice due to a malfunction when scanning the second page of completed ballots and the way that issue was addressed. He said the county received more votes than voters in some races.
Problems were exacerbated, he said, when a judge ruled some polling stations could stay open later due to a late opening and the filing of a civil rights lawsuit. He also said the county committed a crime by prematurely releasing vote totals before some of the extended-hour polling stations closed.
“I think the question that’s on the table is whether what happened in Harris County was simply the by-product of extreme and gross incompetence, or whether it was deliberate,” said Taylor, who served as attorney for George W Bush acted on the 2000 results Florida held a presidential election. “That requires a thorough criminal investigation.”
He said the issues he raised were of bipartisan importance to all voters. “After the dust settles … it could well be that a significant number of polling stations in either impoverished or minority-concentrated areas will be disproportionately affected,” he said.
Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum said in an email that his office is “fully committed to transparency” of Election Day processes and procedures, working with the Secretary of State’s review team and tabulating the votes on provisional ballots .
Tatum said his office is reviewing Election Day issues and claims and will address them “promptly” in a report to the county election commission and the county commissioner’s court, the governing body.
The investigation Abbott wants would come in addition to an ongoing audit of the county’s electoral system, which began before Election Day. The audit, which began after the 2020 election, includes two Republican districts and one Democratic district. Conservative groups began pushing for election results audits in various states in 2020 after former President Donald Trump falsely claimed the elections had been stolen from him. These claims are believed to have played a role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The Harris County District Attorney, a Democrat who clashed with District Judge Lina Hidalgo, also a Democrat, is also urging the Texas Rangers to investigate after the Republican Secretary of State informed them of “alleged irregularities” in voting, which was according to the office was possible to involve criminal conduct.
Texas Democratic Party leaders and Harris County Democratic Party Chairman have criticized Ogg’s planned investigation and called on them to “stop the insidious efforts of Texas Republicans to silence black and brown Houstonians.”
“In 2021, Texas Republicans are moving mountains to make it harder for black and brown Harris County residents to vote. It appears that in 2022, after Democrats made significant holds and gains in Harris, Republicans will redouble their voter-suppression efforts,” the Democrats said in a statement late Thursday.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Democrat-elected Harris County is the target of the state’s urgent response. The county, the state’s largest and third-largest in the country, is majority minority and Democrats control most of the county’s government posts.
In the pandemic, Harris County instituted 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting, which voters of color used more often than other racial groups. The law Abbott signed into law last year banned these Harris County initiatives.
“The state was very quick to get rid of these,” Griffith said.
James Slattery, senior supervising legislative attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said his group has documented late openings at other polling stations in Fort Bend, Hidalgo, Tarrant, Bell and Dallas counties. The Secretary of State allowed Bell County to keep its polling stations open an hour later due to machine malfunctions. At least one other county has had problems with paper shortages, he said.
“The state is always upset with the way Harris County elections are run, even when there are similar issues elsewhere,” Slattery said. “If the government actually cares about these issues, we have a whole database of issues going back years.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com