Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is challenging the integrity of elections in Harris County, one of the metro areas with a largely Democratic constituency, by calling on state authorities to investigate the county’s Election Day practices.
In a news release Monday, the governor asked the Texas Rangers, secretary of state and attorney general to look into problems such as delayed openings of polling locations and shortages of ballot paper.
Taylor Goldenstein, a state bureau reporter for the Houston Chronicle, told the Texas Standard that the governor referenced “anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct” without going into further detail. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What specifically is Governor Abbott concerned about in Harris County?
Taylor Goldenstein: So the statement was a little bit thin on details, but there’s some public information we already know that happened last week that he’s likely referring to, at least in part. Some of that was the delayed polling place openings. There were accusations that there were shortages of paper ballots at some polling places and just understaffing. Those are some of the things that he might be referring to.
Is there evidence of any actual irregularities, or is there some specific outcome he’s challenging?
What the release said was that there was anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct, but he did not go into any detail on what those accusations actually are. We do know separately that the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit yesterday also alleging some of those things I talked about – the shortage of paper ballots, things like that they felt, you know, led to problems that could have affected the outcome of the election and especially close elections and made for what they said were viable situations where candidates may contest their results.
Harris County polls were open an extra hour on Election Day due to those delays in opening several locations, but the state Supreme Court ruled that ballots cast after 7 p.m. had to be counted separately. Is there concern about how this investigation, should it move forward, would affect those votes?
Yes, definitely. The lawsuit I just mentioned cites problems that they saw with how those ballots were handled. Like you said, the court asked that those be segregated. There were accusations in that suit that they were not properly segregated in some cases– that some polling place judges maybe allowed people to vote regularly as opposed to provisionally, so I think a lot of that would have to come to light through the courts.
How did Harris County compare to other large Texas counties when it came to voting issues on Election Day?
The county is pointing to its move to machines with paper trails – and they are not, by any means, the only ones with those kind of machines. In fact, most large counties have the same machines and have experienced similar issues. Tarrant County, for example, has had some of the same issues with ballots not scanning in correctly and things like that. And we should note, too, that Harris County is one of those that is subject to the state’s forensic audit [of their 2020 election results], just like Tarrant.
How has Harris County’s elections administrator’s office responded to this call for an investigation?
So they say that just like the March primary – which I think they’re still working on that or they’re planning on doing kind of a post-election analysis that they plan to publish – they’ll do the same for this election, and they say they’re pretty much just reviewing those issues and those claims made so far, and, you know, plan to share the report with their Commissioners Court and the Elections Commission.
Can Governor Abbott unilaterally launch an investigation like this? Who would actually decide, “OK, there’s enough here to investigate,” and how would that proceed? What’s the next shoe to drop?
At this point, it looks like the Secretary of State’s Office has referred the issue to the attorney general, as well as the Harris County district attorney. The DA’s office can’t confirm or deny investigations. We asked them, and you know, we’ll see what happens. They probably won’t talk about it unless charges are filed, and we have not heard back from the AG’s office.
So at this point what we do know is that Governor Abbott has asked officials to look into it, and we don’t know whether or not there is an investigation currently underway. Do I understand that correctly?
Right, and I should add, too: The Texas Rangers were also informed about these claims; yet to hear from them either on the status.