Harris County officials have until Dec. 9 to close a newly created elections office and rescind an appointment of the office’s administrator, Isabel Longoria, or be sued by the state, according to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Kathleen Hunker, special counsel to the attorney general, on Nov. 25 gave Harris County officials 14 days to “cure the deficiencies identified by the Secretary of State” or face “appropriate legal action.” The warning comes five days after the Texas Secretary of State’s director of elections, Keith Ingram, contacted Harris County’s new clerk, Teneshia Hudspeth, identifying “multiple deficiencies” in the county’s process of creating the new office.
In its letter to Hudspeth, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office highlighted the sections of Texas Election Code that Harris County officials did not follow when they created the office and appointed Longoria.
Former interim Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who held the position from May to November, instituted sweeping changes to election procedures, which resulted in multiple lawsuits. Hollins was county clerk when the Democratic-controlled Harris County Commissioner’s Court voted July 14 to transfer election oversight to a newly created office, the Office of the Elections Administrator, which began operations Nov. 18.
Longoria was a special advisor to Hollins who helped implement 24-hour voting and “drive-thru,” or curbside, voting.
Both the new office and Longoria’s position are null and void, the Attorney General’s Office argues because the county did not follow the law when it created them. Harris County has until Dec. 9 to terminate both. Election-related duties remain with the offices of the County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector, Hunker said.
“After investigating the matter, we concur that Harris County officials failed to follow proper procedures under Sections 31.031(d) and 31.032(c) of the Texas Election Code, thereby exceeding their statutory authority,” Hunker says. “The purported creation of the Office of Election Administrator and subsequent appointment of Ms. Longoria to the position therefore constitute ultra vires actions and are both unlawful and null and void.”
In her three-page letter to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Hunker states, “…Ms. Longoria assumed the role and responsibilities of Election Administrator in violation of the Texas Election Code. As a result, her appointment is a nullity and should be rescinded.”
Hunker explains that a Commissioner’s Court order from July 14 and Election Commission’s October 30 appointment of Longoria hold no legal weight: “In short, the Harris County Office of Elections Administrator does not exist,” she wrote.
“Appointing an administrator of elections in the nation’s third-largest county should have been made by following the prescribed legal process to the letter,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said in a statement.
“Harris County voters deserve an open and transparent process and unfortunately these letters from the Secretary of State and the Attorney General show that the Election Code was violated,” Bettencourt, who has pre-filed a bill for the next legislative session addressing voter fraud, said.
The July 14 County Court vote sought to establish a separate elections office to manage the county’s elections and voter registration process. These duties are legally divided between the offices of the county clerk and county tax assessor-collector.
“Texas Election Code lays out in clear and precise terms the procedure that a Texas county must adhere to should it decide to create the office of county election administrator and appoint someone to the position,” the Attorney General’s Office argues, which Harris County officials did not, and are not, following.
The Harris County Clerk’s Office maintains on its website, “The Harris County Clerk’s Office no longer administers elections. Go to HarrisVotes.com or call 713-755-5792 for all election-related information and inquiries.”
There are more than 2.4 million registered voters in the state’s largest county. Early voting is already underway for local runoff elections held on Dec. 12.
This story originally published by The Center Square and is republished here with permission.