Despite ongoing legal challenges to Harris County’s botched November 8 election, county officials accepted the results on Tuesday during a special county commissioners court meeting.
A last-minute ruling from the Texas Supreme Court resulted in the county including a small batch of late-cast provisional ballots in the canvassed totals but identifying the votes separately to determine if they affect the outcomes of any races.
What can’t be determined is the number of votes not cast at all, due to mismanagement by the county’s new elections administrator.
Election Day problems reported by poll workers and voters included voting equipment that didn’t work, such as ballot scanners that jammed repeatedly, and nearly two dozens polling places that ran out of ballot paper. Chain-of-custody procedures that are key to ballot security were also ignored.
More problems resulted from a court order to hold polls open for an extra hour, which was later reversed.
Perhaps most troubling, though, was the failure of Tatum and his staff to answer poll workers’ calls for help in a timely manner, or at all.
Harris County’s latest election fiasco has made Tatum the target of at least one criminal investigation and a civil lawsuit over his mishandling of the process.
Tatum was hired in July to replace Isabel Longoria, another partisan Democrat appointee, who was forced to resign earlier this year after grossly mismanaging the March primaries. The November election was Tatum’s first in Texas, though it was not the first time he’s been accused of botching an election.
Two days after voting ended, the Harris County Republican Party held a press conference detailing multiple failures by Tatum’s office to follow Texas Election Code.
On November 14, the HCRP filed a lawsuit against Tatum and Harris County.
The suit accuses Tatum of violating multiple election laws and procedures, claiming he “allowed the election to be run in such a manner that it illegally disenfranchised tens of thousands of registered voters from casting their votes for the candidates of their choice.”
One example documented in the complaint is Tatum’s confusing and “ill-advised” process for handling the county’s two-page ballots when one page didn’t scan at the polls.
According to the lawsuit, “This new procedure caused a huge problem of a colossal magnitude,” allowing some voters to cast two ballots and making it impossible to conduct a complete post-election audit or collect evidence for an election contest.
“I believe it’s in the public’s best interest to get to the bottom of what Clifford Tatum did,” HCRP attorney Andy Taylor said in a press conference announcing the lawsuit.
That same day, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation by the secretary of state, Texas Rangers, and Texas attorney general’s office into the widespread problems with Harris County’s elections.
The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct. Voters in Harris County deserve to know what happened. Integrity in the election process is essential. To achieve that standard, a thorough investigation is warranted.
Texas Secretary of State John Scott promptly referred multiple election complaints to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat.
Ogg immediately asked Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw for help from the Texas Rangers in conducting an investigation into “alleged irregularities with the latest Harris County election that potentially may include criminal conduct.”
Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a petition Monday with the Supreme Court of Texas, asking for the county to exclude about 2,000 provisional ballots cast by voters who arrived at the polls after the normal 7 p.m. closing time on election night. A court had ordered some polls to remain open an extra hour, but that order was later reversed.
Just prior to the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the county should include the “later cast votes” in the canvassed results but identify them separately to determine if the outcomes of any races are affected.
“We applaud this move by the Supreme Court and believe the Elections Administrator needs to be held accountable for repeatedly violating the Texas election law which exists to protect the rights of all Harris County voters,” said HCRP Chair Cindy Siegel. “We will continue to fight to ensure all legal votes are counted and illegal votes are not counted.”