As Gov. Greg Abbott finishes signing legislation from the regular 88th Legislative Session, he approved two Republican-backed measures to reform elections in response to Harris County’s chaotic 2022 election.
Authored by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), the first measure eliminates the elections administrator position in counties with a population of 3.5 million. The second measure gives the Texas secretary of state the option to order administrative oversight for elections in counties with a population of more than 4 million if a person participating in the relevant election filed a complaint.
Although the legislation does not directly single out any county, Harris County is the only area in Texas that fits the population requirements of these bills.
The measures are intended to improve the overall reliability of Harris County elections, which suffered severe problems with election management in 2022. While the county clerk was traditionally responsible for running elections and the tax assessor handled voter registration, Harris County decided in 2020 to create the elections administrator position to perform both responsibilities.
However, complications during elections were so grave that then-elections administrator Isabel Longoria resigned.
While Bettencourt, a Harris County native, designed these measures to bring back dependability in Houston-area elections, several prominent Harris County officials have opposed this move.
In a Twitter post, Harris County’s Democrat County Attorney Christian Menefee said, “The Texas Constitution makes it clear that state legislators should not be making laws to target a single county.” Soon after, he released an official statement announcing his intention to sue the state over these bills.
The lawsuit threat is nothing new, as Democrat County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Democrat County Judge Lina Hidalgo, and Houston’s Democrat Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Menefee in May to announce their opposition—before the signing of the bills.
Commissioner Ellis went so far as to claim in a Twitter post that eliminating the election administrator position was akin to “taking Harris County back to the Jim Crow Era.”
Despite the adverse response, Bettencourt remained optimistic, encouraging “Harris County Commissioners Court to look forward, support the County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector, and drop their political frivolous lawsuits against SB 1750 and SB 1933.”