The Texas Legislature on Sunday gave final approval to a new set of bills aimed at increasing penalties for illegal voting and expanding state oversight of local elections, particularly in Harris County. , which includes Houston, where the Democrats have become dominant.
The measures, which must now be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, include a bill that would upend elections in Houston just months before the city’s mayoral race in November by requiring the county to change the way it conducts elections. elections and to revert to a previous system.
This bill, Senate Bill 1750, was designed to apply only to Harris County. So was another bill, the Senate Bill of 1933, which would give sweeping new powers to the Secretary of State, appointed by the Governor, to direct the conduct of elections in the county in the event complaints and to ask a court to replace senior election officials. when deemed necessary.
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Harris County, the most populous county in the state, has become a reliable Democratic stronghold.
The passage of the bills marked the culmination of a month-long effort by Republicans in Texas to challenge some of that dominance. They pointed to Election Day troubles last November in Harris County as vindication for disputed results that favored Democrats and questioned how the Democratic-run county conducts its elections.
“It was a stated intention of some members of the Legislature to take action against the Harris County election administration,” said Daniel Griffith, senior policy director at Secure Democracy USA, a nonpartisan organization focused on elections and voter access.
SB 1750 eliminates the appointed office of election administrator, which has only been in place in Harris County since late 2020. If the bill becomes law with the governor’s signature, the county must revert to its old system of elections, in which the county clerk and county tax collector-assesser shared responsibilities. Both positions are currently held by elected Democrats.
“The Legislature’s support for SB 1750 and SB 1933 is because Harris County is not too big to fail, but too big to ignore,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston and sponsor of several election bills, in a statement. “Public confidence in the Harris County election must be restored.”
Another bill, Senate Bill 1070, removes Texas from an interstate voter registration information matching system operated by a nonprofit organization, the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. The system has come under conservative attack in several states, in part because it requires states to use it to also conduct voter education campaigns when new voters come from out of state. . The Texas measure prohibits the state from entering into any cross-checking system that requires voter education.
Another bill, House Bill 1243, increases the penalty for illegal voting from a misdemeanor to a felony.
The measures passed were met with opposition from Democratic representatives and suffrage groups. But supporters of greater access to the polls were relieved that other more restrictive measures were proposed and passed in the state Senate – including one that would have required voters to use their polling place instead of being able to vote n anywhere in the county, and another that would have created a system for the state to order new elections under certain circumstances in Harris County — failed at the Texas House.
“These haven’t moved and that’s definitely a good thing,” Griffith said.
The bills invite new election scrutiny, especially in Harris County, where officials are expected to revamp their system just months before a major election.
Under the new legislation, future complaints about the operation of elections in the Democratic-led county could create the real possibility that the secretary of state, a former Republican state senator, could step in and oversee the election as soon as next year as the county votes for president.
The bills, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “create more problems than they supposedly solve.”
Top Harris County officials have vowed to go to court to challenge the two measures targeting the county once the laws go into effect (September 1, if the governor signs on), meaning the election fight in the county remains far from over.
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