Republican legislation inspired by a series of election fiascos in Harris County is drawing threats of lawsuits from local Democrat officials—before it’s even been signed into law.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee announced Wednesday the county plans to sue the state over two bills passed this week by Texas lawmakers: one that eliminates their elections administrator position and another that subjects the county’s elections office to state oversight.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo, County Commissioner Rodney Harris, and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner—all Democrats like Menefee—also backed the legal challenges.
Both bills are written with population limits that currently apply only to Harris County.
Senate Bill 1750 abolishes the unelected position of county elections administrator and transfers the administrator’s duties to elected officials, but only in counties with a population of more than 3.5 million.
Senate Bill 1933 gives the Texas secretary of state administrative oversight of local elections offices where there are recurring problems, including authority to petition for removal of elected election officials. The bill applies to counties with a population of more than 4 million.
Menefee said the state constitution bars lawmakers from passing laws that target one specific city or county.
“Texas lawmakers in Austin are undermining Harris County government and targeting three, Black Harris County officials,” he said, referring to Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum, County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth, and Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Bennett—also all Democrats. “They’re blowing up our elections office and setting the stage to remove two elected officials.”
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), who authored the two bills, shot back.
“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,” he said. “This is about performance, not politics.”
Bettencourt said elected officials “did the job for decades correctly.”
Until 2020, Harris County elections were administered by the county clerk, while the tax assessor (a position Bettencourt once held) managed voter registration. Then, Hidalgo and the commissioners court decided to move all election duties to an appointed elections administrator.
Following the November 2020 election, Hidalgo pushed to appoint Isabel Longoria as the county’s first elections administrator, despite her complete lack of experience.
A series of botched elections followed, including what some called “the worst election fiasco in Texas history,” forcing Longoria to resign in 2022.
The county then hired Tatum, a consultant from Washington, D.C., whose gross mismanagement of the November 2022 election sparked a criminal investigation and multiple lawsuits that are ongoing.
Bettencourt’s bills originally applied to multiple counties but were later narrowed to include just Harris, which is home to 15 percent of the state’s registered voters, as it was the source of the most egregious election problems experienced by voters.
“The public’s trust in elections in Harris County must be restored,” Bettencourt said.
Unless vetoed by the governor, SB 1750 will take effect September 1.
SB 1933 was amended by the House, but the Senate didn’t agree to the changes, so a conference committee including members of both chambers will have to work out a mutually agreeable version in the final days of the legislative session, which ends May 29.