Texas is about to shut down an election office in a heavily Democratic county that includes Houston less than two months before the city's mayoral election

Red yard signs in Texas that read "vote here."
Election administration offices in Texas' Harris County, home to Houston, will soon close after a challenge from state Republicans.Veronica G. Cardenas/Reuters
  • Harris County, which includes Houston, must close its election administration office by Friday.

  • The closure comes less than two months before Houston holds its mayoral election.

  • Losing Republican candidates blamed the Harris County election office for their losses in 2022.

In less than two months, Houston residents will begin voting to elect their new mayor. But that election will no longer happen under the authority of Harris County elections officers.

Texas will shut down the election office in heavily Democratic Harris County on Friday after the state's Supreme Court denied an emergency injunction on a law passed by state Republican leaders that requires Texas counties with 3.5 million people or more to abolish their county elections administrators.

Harris County, home to Houston and its current mayor, Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, is the only county in the state with more than 3.5 million people.

Texas state Republicans fight Democratic-led cities

Abolishing the Harris County election office is one in a series of Republican efforts widely viewed as attempts to limit the power of the state's Democratic-led cities.

State lawmakers passed a law championed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year that prevents cities from adopting ordinances that reach beyond laws set by the state. The new law even axed ordinances across Texas mandating water breaks for construction workers, leading labor advocates to call it "The law that kills."

While a state district judge deemed the bill unconstitutional on Wednesday, the Office of the Attorney General has appealed the decision. That law will also go into effect on Friday.

Harris County election office shut down

Legislators passed the bill abolishing the Harris County elections office after so far unproven claims by losing Republican candidates that administrative issues at the office swayed the results of the November 2022 general election, the Texas Tribune reported.

While voting centers in Harris County experienced ballot shortages for short periods of time, voting machine issues, and long wait times, an investigation from Houston Public Media revealed that losing candidates overstated the impacts of these administrative problems and that there was no impact on election outcomes. Their investigation also showed that similar past issues had happened under both Democratic and Republican leadership.

The state's Supreme Court will still hear the county's challenge to the bill, officially known as SB 1750, on November 28, weeks after the 2023 elections are held.

Christian Menefee, attorney for Harris County, told Houston Public Media that the law is unconstitutional under the Texas state Constitution because it only affects a single county, but admitted that the challenge was unlikely to succeed.

"I don't think it would be wise to abolish the office and then later to try to recreate it, absent the Texas Supreme Court telling us that the legislators' law violates the Constitution and should not be rewritten in any way, which I would say, given their decision today, it's unlikely you're going to see the court say that," Menefee told Houston Public Media, referring to the court's decision.

The Texas Office of the Attorney General did not respond to a request for comment ahead of publication.

Houston is electing a mayor for the first time in eight years as Turner reaches his term limit. There are 14 candidates, but polls show a close race between two Democrats: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and State Sen. John Whitmire.

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