The Texas state government is poised to enact a new law giving the governor-appointed Secretary of State the ability to overturn elections in the state’s biggest county.
The legislation, SB-1993, passed in the Texas State Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 19-12. According to the text of the bill, the Secretary of State, a position appointed by Republican Governor Gregg Abbott and currently held by Jane Nelson, would have the authority to throw election results in counties wherein 2 percent or more of the polling locations ran out of ballot paper for more than an hour. In the event that an election was thrown out, a new one would then be held.
The specific parameters of the bill were inspired by incidents in Harris County during the 2022 midterm elections, in which 26 out of the county’s 782 polling locations were affected, according to the Houston Chronicle. Despite the relatively small number of locations affected, the issue was seized upon by Texas Republicans, some of whom claimed that the shortages cost them their races, ultimately leading to the push for legislation that resulted in SB-1993.
“There is no reason, there is no excuse why we can’t competently run our elections and have adequate ballot paper,” Republican state Senator Mayes Middleton, one of the bill’s co-authors, said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
While the text of the legislation does not explicitly mention Harris County, the authority it would vest in the Secretary of State applies only to counties with populations higher than 2.7 million. Harris is the largest county in Texas, with nearly 4.7 million residents, and the only one to meet this requirement, with the second-largest, Dallas County, boasting only 2.6 million residents. Harris County has also tipped Democratic in every presidential election since 2008.
“Does that seem kind of biased to you?” state Senator Borris Miles, who is based in Harris County, said about the bill during a debate on Monday. “We’re just going to pick on my county?”
Middleton countered, stating that Harris County was indeed being singled out because of the paper shortage last November.
“You’ve got to supply enough ballot paper,” Middleton said. “There’s no reason that should happen again. It’s really a simple thing. You just deliver enough paper.”
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also squabbled over whether or not the bill specifically constitutes giving the ability to “overturn” elections.
“You want to vest in a political appointee the ability to make a decision as to whether or not an election should be overturned and reheld?” Democratic state Senator Royce West asked during the same.
“I would disagree about overturning—you’re calling a new election so voters get to vote again,” Middleton responded. “You get the opportunity to vote again. This is very different from the way you are describing it.”
Abbott has previously signaled his support of such legislation. Newsweek reached out to his press office via email for comment.