Tension spikes between Texas elections office and Harris County ahead of early voting

by | Oct 20, 2022 | 2022 Elections, Politics, Voting

With early voting starting on Monday, Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott’s office issued a letter to Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum that the state is sending “inspectors” to watch the county tally votes. 

“We will be sending a contingent of inspectors to the county to observe Central Count during the November 2022 election to ensure that Harris County establishes appropriate procedures and follows them,” Chad Ennis, Director of the Forensic Audit Division, wrote.

“These inspectors will perform randomized checks on election records, including tapes and chain-of-custody, and will observe the handling and counting of ballots and electronic media.”

According to the letter, Ennis decided to send “inspectors” after citing multiple mishaps in the county’s 2020 election audit. 

Even though the Republican-appointed Secretary of State, Ruth Hughs, at the time, later described the state’s 2020 election as “smooth and secure.” 

According to reports, indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is expected to send his staff members to watch the county. 

This letter comes after former county Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria resigned in July when the county experienced mail-in ballot counting discrepancies in the 2022 March primaries. 

Notably, the March Primary Election was the first election after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 into law which bans 24-hour, drive-thru voting, creates new criteria for mail-in ballots, and burdens disabled voters. 

During the March primaries, over 20,000 mail-in ballots were rejected across the state from the bill’s peculiar signature guidelines.

Nonetheless, after a lengthy approval process with the county commissioner court, Tatum took over in August. It’s important to note Harris County is the most diverse county in the state, mainly leaning Democratic. 

The upcoming election also holds one of the tightest races on the ballot between Democratic incumbent Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra Mealer.

After the letter was issued, city and county elected officials, voting rights organizations, and Houstonians denounced the state’s decision. 

“I’m concerned about possible inappropriate state interference in our elections,” Hidalgo tweeted. 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also tweeted disapproval of the state sending “inspectors.” 

“This move by the State Attorney General and Secretary of State on Harris County is totally suspect and should be challenged by all of us,” Turner tweeted. 

The Texas Civil Rights Project, a non-profit organization advocating for voter accessibility, criminal justice reform, and racial justice, also said the state’s decision plays into former President Donald Trump’s tactic to delegitimize the 2020 election. 

On Thursday, in response to the state, Hidalgo, Turner, and Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee filed a request for the Department of Justice to send federal monitors to discourage political interference.

Early voting in Harris County starts on Monday, Oct. 24, and Election Day is Nov. 8.

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Kennedy is a recent graduate of the University of St.Thomas in Houston where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Celt Independent. Kennedy brings her experience of writing about social justice issues to the Texas Signal where she serves as our Political Reporter. She does everything from covering crime beats, Texas politics, and community activism. Kennedy is a passionate reporter, avid reader, coffee enthusiast, and loves to travel.

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