After a series of mistakes that have some calling last week’s primaries the “worst election fiasco in Texas history,” Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria announced today she’s resigning effective July 1. But it’s not yet clear who will take over her responsibilities.
Voters in both parties said they were losing trust in Harris County elections under Longoria and questioned whether the inexperienced partisan appointee was competent enough to keep the job.
Harris County commissioners were set to discuss options today for getting rid of Longoria and either appointing a replacement or returning her responsibilities to elected officials.
“We’ve seen what happens when you put the wrong person in the job,” Harris County Republican Party Chairman Cindy Siegel said in a press conference last Thursday, calling the county’s primaries “an unmitigated disaster.”
County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D), who favored Longoria for the position even though she had no experience running elections, said ahead of today’s announcement she had spoken with Longoria and “expressed my desire for a change in leadership.”
Hidalgo and her Democrat-dominated county election commission (made up of the county judge, county clerk, tax assessor, and chairs of the county’s Democrat and Republican parties) hired Longoria in late 2020.
Longoria’s appointment came after the commissioners court hastily voted on party lines to move election management and voter registration duties from the elected county clerk and tax assessor into a single office headed by an appointed elections administrator.
“No one down at Isabel Longoria’s office is taking responsibility for what really was truly mismanagement of the election process,” Siegel said at another press conference Monday to announce the party’s lawsuit against Longoria.
Theirs is one of two lawsuits filed Monday that cite multiple failures by Longoria during the March 1 primaries—including failing to properly staff and supply polling places and reporting results an unprecedented day later than required by state law.
To top it off, over the weekend Longoria announced she’d failed to include votes from 10,000 mail ballots in the official count.
“Harris County voters deserve better,” said Felicia Cravens, a front-line election worker for over 20 years, fuming over a long list of problems caused by incompetence in Longoria’s office that made it difficult or impossible for some voters to cast their ballots.
Skeptical voters also questioned if fraud was occurring.
“At what point does election incompetence become the perfect camouflage for election malfeasance?” said Alan Vera, head of the HCRP Ballot Security Committee, at Monday’s press conference.
Siegel said the goal is to make sure these problems don’t happen again, noting there are three more elections this year—May 7 local elections, May 24 primary runoffs, and the November general election. Two of those will take place before Longoria’s announced resignation date.
In addition to getting rid of Longoria and her management team, Siegel said the party wants independent oversight from the courts in order to restore faith in the election process for voters in both parties, Democrats and Republicans.
The Harris County Republican Party lawsuit cites multiple failures by Longoria’s office during the primaries:
- Issued the wrong ballots to polling locations, then failed to correct the error;
- Issued the wrong size ballot paper to polling locations;
- Failed to deliver working voting machines and other needed supplies to polls;
- Overrode Republican appointments of election judges and failed to give notice of the changes;
- Removed cameras recording the vote counting before the process was complete, in violation of state law; and
- Failed to complete ballot-counting within 24 hours as required by law and, “despite representing that counting was complete, still has not counted all Election Day ballots”
A bipartisan lawsuit, filed by one Democrat and two Republican candidates on Harris County’s primary ballots, alleges Longoria “intentionally, willfully, and knowingly” failed to adequately operate and supply polling places.
Harris is the largest county in Texas, with 2.5 million registered voters.
Longoria suggested that the law should change to give bigger counties more time to count ballots.
But Texas Secretary of State John Scott noted Sunday that the other 253 counties were able to get their election reports done on time and that such mistakes and delays in reporting vote totals had “never happened before in Harris County.”
Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, also tried blaming the state’s new election integrity law Senate Bill 1.
“The most recent primary election that occurred last week in the state of Texas is now actual evidence of the despicable impact that SB1 has had on the voting rights of Texas. The finding of uncounted 10,000 ballots in Harris County must be immediately investigated and addressed,” she tweeted Sunday.
1/2 The most recent primary election that occurred last week in the state of Texas is now actual evidence of the despicable impact that SB1 has had on the voting rights of Texas. The finding of uncounted 10,000 ballots in Harris County must be immediately investigated and
— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) March 6, 2022
But the problems reported throughout the Harris County primaries were caused by Longoria’s office failing to follow existing laws.
In fact, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) said a provision in SB 1 requiring counties to reconcile the total numbers of voters and counted ballots led to the discovery of the missing mail-in ballot votes.
That reconciliation form, signed March 3, showed a discrepancy of 9,995 mail ballots accepted but not counted.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) added that SB 1 also “makes firing the Election Administrator a whole lot easier.”
The only effect SB1 had on the gross mishandling of the 2022 Primary Election by the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office is that it makes firing the Election Administrator a whole lot easier.#txlege pic.twitter.com/a0pbtdO6V1
— 𝐁𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐜𝐨𝐞 𝐂𝐚𝐢𝐧 (@BriscoeCain) March 8, 2022
The bill added a civil penalty for election officials who violate Texas Election Code that can include terminating their employment.
Otherwise, appointed elections administrators serve until they are fired by a four-fifths vote of the county election commission, and a majority of the commissioners court approves.
With Longoria’s resignation, Harris County must now decide if the election commission will appoint a new administrator, or if commissioners court will vote to return election-related responsibilities to the elected county clerk and tax assessor.
Commissioners are also considering an audit of Harris County’s primary elections, as well as asking the Secretary of State’s office to monitor upcoming elections.