Harris County officials will be filing a lawsuit against the state and calling on federal intervention after a string of election-related bills targeting the county made their way through the House and are up for consideration in the Senate.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee announced the County’s plan at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon where he was joined by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Menefee condemned the House’s passage of Senate Bill 1750, which would terminate the current role of Harris County elections administrator Clifford Tatum.
“This is going to undo years of work that the county has undertaken to set up that office, build up the workforce; it’s going to confuse things for county employees and it’s going to throw our processes into chaos just a few months before a major election in Harris County,” Menefee said.
Hidalgo then double-downed on the county’s disapproval of the Legislature’s actions, criticizing Senate Bill 1933 because it allows for the state’s ability to initiate lawsuits and remove current Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennet.
Menefee said he saw that Republicans such as Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Representative Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) said these bills were meant to support these officials – when in reality they target three of the county’s black leaders.
“We’re filling this lawsuit to protect our communities, to protect our public servants and to protect each and every resident that lives in Harris County,” he said. “To cast their ballot for folks that look differently and think differently than the people in Austin.”
Ellis said the passage of these bills was a “hit job” on the biggest blue county in Texas, directly attacking the fundamental voting rights of Harris County residents – particularly just months ahead of a major election.
“We call B.S. on the excuses these legislators are using to remove the rights of our constituents, these bills are not about election reform; they’re not about improving voters’ experiences, they're entirely about suppressing their voters’ voices,” Hidalgo said.
Mayor Sylvester Turner also expressed concerns for when these bills would go into effect, as he said they would without a doubt impact the upcoming mayoral election.
Menefee said to avoid any issues, county officials are already working with Hudspeth – who would be running the election – to ensure that she has the support and resources needed to be successful in her effort.
According to Hidalgo, the county has reached out to the White House and asked for the Department of Justice to get involved.
Menefee said he will file the lawsuit on behalf of Harris County against the state as soon as the bills are signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott.