Texas attorney general attempts to toss out late-cast Harris County votes

Ballots and scanning machines arrive at central counting after polls close in Houston on Nov. 8, 2022. (Michael Stravato For The Texas Tribune, Michael Stravato For The Texas Tribune)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to discard 2,000 provisional ballots cast in Harris County ahead of a Tuesday meeting where the county commissioners are set to certify their November election results.

Paxton filed a mandamus Monday afternoon to the state Supreme Court asking it to disregard the votes because they were cast after the usual deadline to arrive at the polls. The conflict is a result of the 2,000 voters in Harris County who arrived in line between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., an hour after state law says voters are allowed to cast their ballots. In this instance, a judge on election night ordered all polling locations in Harris County to allow people to vote until 8 p.m.

The order was in response to the Texas Organizing Project filing an emergency petition to extend the voting time frame after 12 voting locations opened more than an hour late, according to a mandamus filed by the Texas Organizing Project. Many Harris County voting locations experienced “widespread problems” across its polling locations — from opening an hour late to paper ballot shortages.

As a result of the court order, those who got in line after 7 p.m. were still allowed to vote on Election Day but had to cast a provisional ballot.

In the filing, Paxton acknowledged the issues at the polling sites but argued that even if some locations were not opened by the stated time, it did not justify extending the time locations remained open.

“A trial court’s last-minute intervention only made matters worse,” he wrote.

The fight over the provisional ballots appears to have the potential to impact one local race in Harris County.

The morning after the election, District Judge DaSean Jones, a Democratic incumbent, trailed his Republican challenger Tami Pierce by 165 votes two days after Election Day. But after county officials had counted nearly 1,000 more mail-in ballots and more than 4,000 provisional ballots, the results had flipped, according to the Houston Chronicle. State law allows Texans to cast a provisional ballot if they vote during extended hours due to a court order, did not have the proper identification or applied to vote by mail but did not return or cancel their ballot. If the vote can later be verified as legitimate, it counts.

“This is a calculated move by Paxton to change the election results because a race flipped in favor of Democrats during the final count,” Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu said in a statement.

Harris County Democrats are calling this move an attempt to reverse the result.

Meanwhile, the Harris County GOP is supporting Paxton’s move and telling its followers to be vocal about the issue at the meeting Tuesday. In a tweet, the party encouraged its followers to go to the Harris County Commissioners’ court on Tuesday to “make your voice heard by speaking on this botched election run by the failed Elections Administrator.”

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