Recent legislation returns election administrative responsibilities to Harris County Clerk’s office
As is often stated during every election cycle: Elections matter!
That phrase definitely rings true this year, as one of the most talked about and attention-grabbing races on the November ballot involves a City of Houston mayoral race that will undoubtedly shape the future of the soon-to-be third largest city in the U.S., depending on who wins.
As the second and final term of one of the best mayors the City of Houston has ever had—Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner—concludes at the end of this year, due to term-limits, there are a total of 18 candidates vying for the mayoral seat in the November 2023 election.
This November election is also extremely significant, as it will be the first uniformed election in Texas that will be impacted by recent legislation passed by the Texas State legislature during the 88th Texas Legislative Session and officially signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
One of the most significant pieces of legislation is Senate Bill 1750, which was signed into law in June of this year. The bill completely abolished the office of the Harris County Elections Administrator that was created by Harris County Commissioners in November 2020.
Prior to the Harris County Elections Administrator position being created, the duties of election management was the responsibility of the Harris County Clerk’s office, while the handling of voter registration was the responsibility of the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office.
As a result of the newly minted Senate Bill 1750, those duties and responsibilities have now returned to those respective offices, with some additional bells and whistles added, however.
After unproven claims and accusations that there were election irregularities and fraud relative to the 2022 primary and general elections, the majority-Republican Texas state legislature, in alignment with Gov. Abbott, pushed Senate Bill 1750. This new bill now also gives the Texas Secretary of State’s Office the discretion and the authority to place all Harris County’s elections under administrative oversight, if after conducting their own investigation, they believe there is a recurring pattern of issues with election administration or voter registration.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee lodged an unsuccessful legal challenge to Senate Bill 1750, but the Texas State Supreme Court ruled to allow the bill to take effect on September 1st.
Once the announcement was made regarding Senate Bill 1750 being the new law of the land, Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth—the first African American woman to serve in that role—immediately let everyone know she was prepared and ready to successfully handle the responsibility, as she did when the duties were stripped from her office in 2020.
Hudspeth sat down with the Forward Times to discuss the upcoming November election and what the community needs to know leading up to it.
FORWARD TIMES: Should Harris County voters be concerned about the change back from the Election Administrator position that was created in 2020? If not, why?
HUDSPETH: Voters should not be concerned about the change in the county’s election office leadership. I have the experience required to lead and have spent the majority of my professional career as an election official. I have a strong team of advisers and a core group of committed employees who have spent their life working elections. Harris County voters are in good hands. The law that abolished the Election Administrator was largely administrative in nature. SB 1750 required that employees, property, and records that were under the Election Administrator’s office be returned to the County Clerk’s Office and the Tax Office. So, in essence, the letterhead and the business cards used by former EA employees have changed but their responsibilities to voters, for the most part, continue to be the same.
FORWARD TIMES: Are there any new details or important key information that Harris County voters should know in advance of the November election to ensure their votes are counted?
HUDSPETH: Yes. The use of paper ballots in the process of voting on the new electronic voting machines is sensitive and it has made voting a bit more laborious and complex. How voters handle the ballot paper, in the process of voting and printing their ballot, may impact how fast their votes get recorded and tallied. It is crucial that voters follow instructions while using the new voting system and be careful while handling their ballot. Many of the challenges that election officials, poll workers, and voters have experienced recently are related to the use of the new voting machines. So, it is important that we all get better acclimated to the new voting machines, because it is key to running an efficient election.
FORWARD TIMES: What are some of the most significant changes that Harris County voters will have to adhere to moving forward, because of the recent legislative changes?
HUDSPETH: That is an interesting question that I will answer in an uncommon way. Too often, we tend to unwittingly promote narratives that discourage people from voting. If we want to encourage more voter participation in our elections, I strongly feel it is important to focus eligible voters on what has not changed and what is still possible: That is, 1) you can still vote by mail if you are 65 years or older; sick or disabled; out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or expected to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day; or confined in jail, but otherwise eligible. 2) There are still 12-days of Early Voting, when voters can visit any one of our voting centers and vote. That equals to 139 hours when eligible voters can cast a ballot before Election Day. 3) The Tuesday after the first Monday in November, Election Day, voters can still cast a ballot from 7am – 7pm at a voting center of their choice. All Harris County Election information can be obtained at www.harrisvotes.com. In short, if you are a registered voter who has an acceptable form of identification, no matter how laws have changed, you still have plenty of time and opportunity to vote.
FORWARD TIMES: How do you feel about your office’s preparedness for the upcoming election and future elections?
HUDSPETH: As an experienced former election official, who is familiar with the demanding work of running an election, I can tell you that conducting an election is a huge challenge. I can also tell you that the Election staff has been working hard and doing all we can to be ready to receive voters. That makes me feel confident that we can conduct successful elections now and in the future.
FORWARD TIMES: How are you getting the word out about the upcoming election, specifically to the African American community and underserved areas?
HUDSPETH: By law, every political entity that has an item on the ballot has to provide an official Notice of Election to their voters via newspaper, direct mail, or by posting a notice in voting precincts within their boundaries. My office has launched a Communications Campaign which include PSAs, Television, Radio, and Print Media, which includes print ads about early voting and important Election facts that also include African American community papers and newsletters. Our office also hosts community meetings, located in all areas of Harris County to provide information, materials, and assistance needed to vote. Aside from state laws, Elections are also carried out in accordance with the Federal Voting Rights Act, which now also includes provisions related to language minority groups and Americans with disabilities. Harris County is committed to making sure that all voters are served and treated equally, no matter who they are, how they look, how they communicate, or what they believe.
FORWARD TIMES: Is there anything else that you’d like to share, or that you believe is important for our readers to know?
HUDSPETH: As your elected Harris County Clerk and Chief Election Official, along with my team, I am confident that Harris County can administer well organized, transparent, and fair elections. I encourage all eligible voters to cast their ballot in the upcoming November 7th Election. Local Elections matter. There are 14 State Constitutional Amendments, Harris County Wide Bond Election, City of Houston Mayoral, Council Members, Propositions, School District Trustee and Bond Elections with many other jurisdictional elections. For more information, visit www.harrisvotes.com or call 713-755-5792. If you are an eligible voter, go vote!
The Forward Times thanks Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth for sharing this pertinent information with our readers, but now it is time for you to do your part…VOTE!
The last day to register to vote for the November 7th election was October 10th, but if you have already registered to vote, Early voting starts on Monday, October 23rd, and the last day to apply for an absentee ballot (received, not postmarked) is Friday, October 27th.
Early voting ends on Friday, November 3rd and the Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th.
Again, all election information can be found at www.harrisvotes.com, and for news and updates follow the Harris County Clerk’s office on social media at @HarrisCoTxClerk and @HarrisVotes.