Arguments between Democrats and Republicans used to focus mostly on issues such as the economy, tax rates, healthcare administration, how to deploy our armed forces, abortion and whether government should be more involved or less involved in citizens’ lives. And voters listened to what political candidates had to say about those topics, which factored into their decisions on Election Day.
Nowadays, how to vote and how to run an election – and whether the results are fair, accurate and can be trusted – has become as heated of an issue as just about anything else.
This is especially true in Houston, where members of both major parties and probably the more minor ones can agree that the March 1 primaries were a mess. The Harris County Elections office did not finish its vote tallies until about 1 a.m. March 3, six hours past the state-imposed, 24-hour deadline to complete the court, and then announced nearly three days later that it failed to include about 10,000 votes in the results it had released to the public.
That’s unacceptable, of course, and again, both Democrats and Republicans have agreed on that. Local Democrats called for a third-party review of the county’s election administration, the local Republican party filed a lawsuit over the issue, and appointed elections administrator Isabel Longoria announced Tuesday that she is resigning from that job, effective July 1.
“Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” Longoria reportedly said during Tuesday’s Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she wanted a change in leadership in the elections office. “I didn’t meet my own standards.”
It should be noted that Longoria, who narrowly lost a runoff against incumbent Karla Cisneros for the District H seat on the Houston City Council in 2019, was appointed by the Democrat-controlled commissioners court in late 2020. Administering elections had previously been the responsibility of the Harris County Clerk, which was an elected position.
This fact was highlighted in a statement released Tuesday by the Harris County GOP.
“The widespread problems in the primary election are inexcusable and due to the incompetence of Democrat leader Lina Hidalgo and her unelected, unqualified elections administrator Isabel Longoria,” local party chair Cindy Siegel said. “… Longoria cannot remain in place for the May 7 local elections or the May 24 primary runoff without independent oversight from either the court for the Secretary of State. Because she has resigned in place, independent oversight is needed immediately, independent of Harris County and the Harris County elections office.”
It also should be noted that Hidalgo is up for re-election this November, which means Siegel’s statement could be at least partially politically motivated. And let’s not forget the new voting requirements outlined in Senate Bill 1, the legislation pushed and passed by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature last year, led to thousands of mail-in ballots in Harris County being flagged for rejection and might have contributed to the county’s counting delays.
Elections office spokesperson Leah Shah said as much in a Tuesday statement to the Texas Tribune.
“Instead of working together to finalize counting the votes, the (Republican) party is pursuing litigation to undermine the integrity of elections in this state and further deflect from the appalling impacts of SB1,” Shah told the news outlet.
Perhaps most importantly, it should be pointed out that the county elections office acknowledged its “oversight” in failing to include the aforementioned 10,000 or so votes – about 6,000 for the Democratic primary and 4,000 in the Republican election – in the unofficial results it initially released. Those votes were added to the totals this Tuesday, and fortunately, the error did not alter the outcome of any races.
So to be clear, what we have on our hands is a big mistake made by an elections administrator in the third-largest county in the United States, which has cost that administrator her job and likely will lead to a smoother, more satisfying election experience moving forward. I don’t see any reasons to think that anyone from any political party, including Longoria, tried to rig the primary races.
Remember, those elections pit Democrats against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans.
So as we start to turn our attention to the general election in November, let’s take a deep breath and a step back and try to refrain from partisan rhetoric and accusations of election tampering. I haven’t seen or heard about any evidence of election fraud that is widespread enough to affect the outcome of a democratically conducted race on a countywide level, or on the statewide or national level, for that matter.
So let’s just work to clean up the voting and vote-counting process here in the Houston area, which means ensuring that voting machines work properly and ballots are counted in a timely, efficient and accurate fashion and that thousands of votes do not get overlooked. The county commissioners court took a step toward that end by voting Tuesday to enlist a third-party consultant to review elections administration and make recommendations for running subsequent elections this year.
I’d like to suggest that, moving forward, neither an elected official nor a member of the Democratic or Republican party be in charge of administering elections in Harris County. Let’s leave that task to a capable, qualified political independent.
Maybe that way, political opponents can go back to bickering about the issues important to voters instead of arguing about how voting itself should be conducted.
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