Election

Democrats and Rights Groups Criticize Gov. Greg Abbott's Call for Probe of Harris County Vote

Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Harris County's elections.
Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Harris County's elections. Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into last week’s elections in Harris County, citing “widespread problems," a move Democrats and rights groups have decried as a partisan attack.

In a news release, the governor claimed Harris County voters faced “confusion and delays” thanks to “missing keys, insufficient paper ballots in Republican precincts, staffing problems and more.”

Abbott and Texas Republicans carried the state during the midterm elections, with the governor beating out Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke. Ken Paxton won reelection as the state's attorney general, and Dan Patrick defeated Democrat Mike Collier for lieutenant governor.

Abbott called on the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Rangers to probe “allegations of improprieties in the way that the 2022 elections were conducted” in the county.

“The allegations of election improprieties in our state's largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct,” he said in the release. “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.”

Last Tuesday, some voters in Harris County reported problems trying to cast their ballots, and advocacy organizations filed lawsuits to keep polls open an hour after they were slated to close.

Even before Election Day came, politicians expected Harris County to become a flashpoint for claims of voter fraud and alleged malfeasance. Ahead of the vote, the U.S. Department of Justice sent observers there at the request of County Attorney Christian Menefee and other local officials.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, applauded Abbott’s calls for an investigation, saying in a statement it was “the worst Election Day ever by a major county.”

“This is not about being an election denier,” Bettencourt said in the statement. “It’s about actual reported voter irregularities.”

On Tuesday morning, Lt. Gov. Patrick also released a statement in support of Abbott’s calls for an investigation.

“Citizens should never accept the fact that voting machines are broken, paper ballots run out and votes are not counted on time,” Patrick claimed. “The other 253 counties in Texas seem to be able to conduct elections with few problems, but Harris County continues to be the outlier.”

The Republican lieutenant governor added, “During the upcoming legislative session, the Texas Senate will continue to pass legislation to improve the integrity of elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat so voters can have their faith in our system restored.”

But some rights groups and advocacy organizations called out what they view as a partisan attack on Harris County, a largely Democratic enclave.

In a press release, Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu accused Abbott of undertaking "yet another example of the political theater we’ve come to expect from our state leader."

“It’s almost laughable that Abbott has demanded this investigation since he actually sent a team to oversee the Harris County elections last week," Evbagharu added. "Was Abbott’s team ineffective? Will Abbott be investigating himself?"

In a statement on Twitter, the Texas Civil Rights Project said the governor’s demand “for an investigation of election issues in Harris County, while other counties across [Texas] faced the same issues, is clearly a targeted attack by the State against the voters of Harris County.”

It’s not the first time Texas Republicans have taken aim at Harris County over elections. In September 2021, state officials announced that Texas would conduct a “full forensic audit” of electoral results in four counties: Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant.

In July, Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott's office said Harris County had been randomly selected for an audit during the November midterm elections.

Following the November 2020 elections, many Texas Republicans echoed former President Donald Trump's claims that the vote had been rigged in Joe Biden's favor. Attorney General Ken Paxton also filed a handful of failed lawsuits attempting to overturn electoral results in other states. 
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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