The Texas legislature passed a series of bills on Monday that amounted to a sweeping power grab giving Republicans more control over how elections are run and administered in the state’s most populous Democratic county, which includes the city of Houston and is home to nearly 5 million people.
One bill would allow the secretary of state, who is appointed by the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, to remove local election officials for “good cause” based on a “recurring pattern of problems with election administration.” Under SB 1933, a person involved in the election process could submit a complaint about a county election office to the secretary of state’s office, which could then usurp the power of local officials for something as minor as a voting machine malfunction that prevents someone from casting a ballot. There would be no opportunity for the county to challenge or appeal the decision. The bill applies solely to “large urban areas” with 4 million people or more. Only Houston’s Harris County, the state’s largest blue county, falls into that category.
A second bill, SB 1750, abolishes the position of election administrator in counties with a population of more than 3.5 million. Once again, only Harris County fits that definition.
Voting rights experts said it was unprecedented for the legislature to single out one county against its wishes—let alone the third largest county in the country, which covers an area that is larger than Rhode Island—and could open the door to broader power grabs by Republicans. “If they can do this in Houston, they can do it in Austin, they can do it in Dallas,” says Emily Eby French, a voting rights attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Targeting one official in one county is a horrible precedent to set.” [Continue reading…]