When Houston native, Palm, moved to the city in 1951, he was immediately exposed to the political landscape of Harris County, Texas. He quickly learned that the Republican Party had a strong presence in the area and that Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, was a major figure in the county's politics. In recent years, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature has sought to regain control of cities and counties, many of which are led by Democrats. Clifford Tatum, Harris County Election Administrator, recently announced that when a new provision takes effect in September, there will be 39 days between the voter registration deadline and the first day of early voting for countywide elections.
This includes the Houston mayoral race. Harris County was the last large county in Texas to create an election department and appoint an election administrator. The Texas House of Representatives recently voted to give state officials more authority over elections in Harris County. The Republican-led legislature has proposed dozens of new election bills, including voting center limits, felony penalties for voting illegally, and a mechanism for the state to order new elections when voting problems arise in Texas counties with more than 2.7 million inhabitants. This category includes only Harris County.
The fight on two fronts - both in the courts and at the State Capitol - has highlighted how important it is for Republicans to keep Harris County competitive and not allow it to become another heavily blue urban center on the Austin or Dallas line. Cindy Siegel, President of the Harris County Republican Party, praised the passage of these bills in a statement Monday night. At the time, the Harris County Elections Department lacked a tracking system that larger counties would use to identify problems in real time. For months it couldn't tell how many polling stations ran out of paper on Election Day or if anyone was prevented from voting. All polls in the county were ordered to remain open for an additional hour under an emergency court order, but the Texas Supreme Court suspended the vote following an appeal by the Republican attorney general. At the same time, losing Republican candidates in the county filed more than a dozen electoral challenges, arguing that significant problems that arose at a limited number of voting centers on election day, including the lack of ballots, were enough to change the election results. The House of Representatives also approved a bill that would give the Secretary of State new powers to investigate complaints in Harris County.
Natalia Contreras covers election administration and voting access for Votebeat in partnership with The Texas Tribune. At an election committee hearing last month, a Harris County elections judge said he had run out of paper by six in the afternoon. The political landscape of Harris County has been shaped by its history and its current situation. The Republican Party has long held sway over local politics and has recently sought to regain control through legislative action. This has included bills that would limit voting centers and impose felony penalties for illegal voting.
Additionally, there have been efforts to give state officials more authority over elections in Harris County. The fight between Republicans and Democrats has been intense and has highlighted how important it is for Republicans to keep Harris County competitive. Cindy Siegel, President of the Harris County Republican Party praised these efforts while acknowledging that there were issues with tracking systems and lack of ballots on Election Day. Despite this, Republicans have continued their efforts to gain control over local politics. Harris County is an important part of Texas politics and its history will continue to shape its future. As new legislation is proposed and implemented, it will be interesting to see how it affects local politics and how it will shape future elections.