In an attempt to block new legislation, Harris County is suing Texas in order to halt an election security measure from going into effect.

Until 2020, Harris County elections were administered by the county clerk. Then, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the commissioners court decided to appoint an elections administrator to handle all election duties. Problems emerged with the first appointed administrator, Isabel Longoria, who was forced to resign in 2022 after a series of botched elections. Following Longoria’s resignation, the county hired Clifford Tatum, whose mismanagement of the November 2022 election sparked a criminal investigation and multiple lawsuits.

After these incidents occurred, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) filed SB 1750 to abolish the unelected position of county elections administrator and transfer the administrator’s duties to elected officials, but only in counties with a population of more than 3.5 million.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law both SB 1750 and Senate Bill 1933. The second measure 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. 

On Thursday, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee held a press conference to announce the county will officially be filing a lawsuit against the state. 

“This is a coordinated attack on elections here in Harris County and on our democracy,” said Menefee. “Today’s lawsuit is about standing up to those forces. But this is also about protecting local officials and their ability to work for the people that we serve.” 

According to the lawsuit, Harris County claims that SB 1750 singles out the county specifically to disrupt its local control over elections. They also allege the new law violates the Texas Constitution by passing local or special laws targeting certain jurisdictions. 

Bettencourt responded to the lawsuit by saying the public will be better served by elected officials who follow the election code rather than the poor mismanagement that Harris County has demonstrated for the past three years.

Another frivolous lawsuit by Harris County against the State of Texas!!! My SB 1750 is about performance NOT politics! This bill is the result of election fiascos due to Elections Administrators and other appointed elected officials. The fact that the first Harris County appointed EA had to resign due to problems in the primary seems to escape any mention by the County Attorney and Commissioners Court in this lawsuit. The public will be far better served by elected officials that followed the election code in the past, and will do so in future elections thus, regaining confidence of the voters in the elections process and that’s what SB 1750 is all about.

Unless the court orders an injunction protecting the county’s control, the measures will go into effect September 1, 2023.

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.