Can the Texas Governor Now Overturn Election Results?
On May 11 2023, Imgur account u/Lanhdanan shared a meme claiming that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) bas been granted the ability to overturn Texas election results:
No link was attached to the post providing context for the claim. However, three of the top comments on the Imgur thread expressed familiarity with the story, responding in a subthread:
“Even more disgusting, I believe it’s only in one county, Harris County. That’s Houston…he can overturn results in the Democratic stronghold.”
“It is a specifically written law with a lot of triggers in it to cause a new election knowing dems wont be able to vote 2-3 times in houston[.]”
“Yes, and it’s huge. Harris county is around 1.5% of the TOTAL US population. It’s got more people than half of our individual states (close to 5 million)[.]”
On Reddit, posts referencing Abbott’s purported ability to overturn election results began appearing on May 4 2023. Posts were shared to an array of subreddits, including r/politics, r/VoteDEM, r/TexasPolitics, r/houston, r/texas, and r/TopMindsOfReddit:
Texas Senate votes to allow Gov. Abbott to overturn Harris County elections
by u/cheezeyballz in politics
Did Texas senate really just pass measure to intervene in Travis County elections?
by u/MrWug in TexasPolitics
Top Conspos are largely disinterested in discussing an actual conspiracy in Texas
by u/SassTheFash in TopMindsOfReddit
Several of the submissions were text or image based, but three of them linked to the same news story. On May 4 2023, KRTK-TV in Houston reported on a bill that only applies to Harris County, Texas
The Republican-controlled Texas Senate has just passed a bill that would let Gov. Greg Abbott and his appointees overturn elections in Harris County. It comes in response to the 2022 mid-term elections last fall, in which Democrats performed better than expected.
The bill would give the governor’s elections appointee the power to overturn the election results and call for a new vote.
“It’s reprehensible,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said.
He calls the bill “discriminatory” since it only applies to Harris County, the most populous and most diverse of 254 Texas counties, and he’s threatening to sue if it passes.
KRTK-TV repeatedly referenced “the bill,” but didn’t seem to identify which bill, concluding:
The bill passed the Republican-led Senate, 19-12. It now goes to the House for a vote.
On May 3 2023, NBC News covered the passage of the legislation:
The Texas Legislature is advancing a bill that would allow the secretary of state to redo elections in Harris County, where a number of Democratic candidates posted strong midterm election results and which has been dogged by GOP claims of election mismanagement.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill [on May 2 2023] and sent it to the state House. If it is enacted, it would allow the secretary of state to toss out election results in the state’s largest county and call a new vote if there is “good cause” to believe that at least 2% of polling places ran out of usable ballots during voting hours.
The bill would apply only to counties with populations greater than 2.7 million, effectively singling out Harris County, which is home to Houston and has by far the largest population in the state, at nearly 5 million. In recent decades, Harris County has become more Democratic.
NBC News linked to the legislation in question, Texas Senate Bill [SB] 1933. The legislation itself was brief:
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
relating to the authority of the secretary of state to order a new election in certain counties.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Title 14, Election Code, is amended by adding Subtitle E to read as follows:
SUBTITLE E. ORDER FOR NEW ELECTION BY SECRETARY OF STATE
CHAPTER 249. SHORTAGE OF BALLOTS IN CERTAIN COUNTIES
Sec. 249.001. STANDARD FOR NEW ELECTION. Notwithstanding any other law, in a county with a population of 2.7 million or more, the secretary of state shall order a new election if the secretary has good cause to believe that at least two percent of the total number of polling places in the county:
(1) ran out of usable ballots during voting hours; and
(2) did not receive supplemental ballots under Section 51.008 for one or more hours after making a request for supplemental ballots to the authority responsible for distributing election supplies.
Sec. 249.002. PROCEDURES FOR NEW ELECTION. In establishing the procedures for a new election ordered under this chapter, the secretary of state shall have the same authority granted to a district court under Section 231.007.
Sec. 249.003. EXPENSES OF NEW ELECTION. The expenses of a new election ordered by the secretary of state under this chapter are paid from the same fund and by the same authority that paid the expenses of the previous election.
SECTION 2. The changes in law made by this Act apply only to an election ordered on or after the effective date of this Act.
SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2023.
News and social media commentary about the Texas law often included a claim that the Texas Senate had specifically targeted Harris County with the following: “… in a county with a population of 2.7 million or more, the secretary of state shall order a new election.” According to a population statistics site for the year 2023:
There are 254 counties in Texas. With a population of 4,652,980, Harris County is the largest county in Texas, and has an impressive growth rate of 13.7%. Dallas County, Tarrant County, Bexar County and Travis County make up the rest of the top five most populous counties in Texas, with each having populations of more than a million.
Dallas County was identified as the second most populous county in Texas, and the bill didn’t round the population to even the closest half-million. Per the same site, Dallas County’s population in 2023 was listed as 2,687,159 — a very specific figure just under SB 1933’s threshold of 2.7 million residents.
While it seemed likely that “the bill” referenced on social media was SB 1933, there was more legislation to contend with. On May 2 2023, the Texas Tribune published a story (“Texas House advances bill to eliminate Harris County election chief position”) that referenced a separate bill entirely, SB 1750, aimed at eliminating “the county elections administrator position in Harris County”:
A bill that would force Harris County to get rid of its elections administrator is closer to becoming law after the Texas House Elections Committee approved it Monday [May 1 2023].
Senate Bill 1750 would abolish the county elections administrator position in Harris County and transfer election duties to the county clerk and tax assessor-collector. The Senate passed the bill, written by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican, on April 18 . It will now go up for debate on the House floor.
The bill was originally written to affect all counties with populations of more than 1 million residents, but it was changed to focus solely on Harris after Bettencourt’s office conducted a survey of Texas’ largest counties and found that only Harris County had continuous problems, said Rep. Briscoe Cain, who presented the House version of the bill — House Bill 3876 — in committee [on April 27 2023].
A paywalled May 8 2023 Houston Chronicle piece referenced bills, plural (“What’s next for the bills targeting Harris County elections?”) and explained of SB 1933:
The election bill, along with a host of other GOP senate bills, is largely seen as specifically targeting Harris County.
Despite the lack of evidence of a widespread problem, Republican lawmakers pushed the legislation forward based on their argument that Harris County officials deliberately created ballot paper shortages so Republican candidates lost elections they otherwise would have won.
The legislation was introduced in March 2023.
A May 2 2023 Chron.com article (“Texas bill would allow state to throw out Harris County election results”) also referenced more than one bill targeting Harris County, and reported that House Bill [HB] 3876 was “identical” to Senate Bill [SB] 1750:
A Texas bill calling for the abolition of the position of elections administrator in Harris County is inching closer and closer to final passage after a [May 1 2023] vote moved the legislation out of the Texas House Elections Committee. Senate Bill 1750 already passed the Senate on April 18 . House Bill 3876, an identical piece of legislation, will be up for debate in the House Chamber.
Voting advocacy group Democracy Docket warned about the Texas statehouse bills on April 14 2023 (“Texas Senate Passes Bill To Seize Control of Elections from Local Authorities”) and again on May 2 2023 (“Texas Senate Passes Bill Allowing State to Rerun Harris County Elections.”) In the April 14 2023 “alert,” Democracy Docket referenced Greg Abbott’s position in the election-related scheme:
S.B. 1933 would allow the secretary of state — in Texas, a position appointed by the governor — to take over election administration and voter registration in Texas counties. The bill would specifically authorize this “administrative oversight” if an election complaint is filed with the secretary of state’s office and the secretary of state has “good cause to believe that a recurring pattern of problems with election administration or voter registration exists in the county.” The broad categories listed as pretext for state oversight include delays in reporting election results, failure to comply with list maintenance procedures, voting equipment malfunctions and more.
If the state imposes oversight on a county, the county election office would be required to submit any voting or policy changes to the state for approval and allow staff from the secretary of state’s office to observe election proceedings. The state would also be empowered to appoint a conservator to take over election duties and recommend that a county suspend or terminate the current election administrator. “[T]he governor is trying to override voters to replace leaders he can’t control,”ACLU Texas tweeted about the legislation.
On May 2 2023, the alert addressed how the bill specifically targeted Harris County, and its link to the 2022 midterms. It read in full:
On Tuesday, May 2 , the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1993, which would give the secretary of state the authority to order a new election under certain circumstances in counties with at least 2.7 million people. Only Harris County, a Democratic stronghold and the country’s third most populous county, would be affected by this bill as it has 4.7 million people. S.B. 1993 now goes to the state House for consideration.
S.B. 1993 would allow the secretary of state to order a new election in Harris County if at least 2% of polling places run out of usable ballots during voting hours and also if these polling places don’t receive extra ballots within one hour of running out. Under the terms of the law, the secretary of state wouldn’t actually have to prove that any polling places did run out of ballots; they would merely need to have “good cause to believe ” that there was a shortage. Additionally, they wouldn’t have to prove that election administration issues affected the outcome of the election.
The law is a direct response to the 2022 midterms, where some Republicans tried to use Election Day problems in Harris County to justify overturning the results. Republicans suggested the ballot shortages last year were targeted at Republicans, a claim the data does not support. If signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), S.B. 1993 will make it easier for Texas Republicans to override future elections in Harris County.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee (D) vowed to sue if the bill is enacted.
Finally, on May 11 2023, Axios.com‘s “Texas bills target Harris County” reported that “about a dozen bills” had been filed specifically aimed at disrupting democratic institutions in Harris County:
Texas legislators have filed about a dozen bills targeting Harris County this session … Of note: The bill [Senate Bill/SB 1933] would apply only to counties with a population over 2.7 million — which only includes Harris County.
S.B. 823 would allow the secretary of state to suspend an election administrator and appoint a new one.
S.B. 1750 would essentially abolish the county’s election administrator and transfer the power to the county tax assessor and clerk. This bill would apply only to counties with a population over 3.5 million, which again is only Harris County.
Other bills include S.B. 220, S.B. 1039, S.B. 1911 and S.B. 1933 — all with implications that would shrink Harris County’s control of its elections.
Aside from elections, Republicans have filed several other bills targeting Harris County — including how the county handles routine business.
A popular May 11 2023 Imgur meme featured an image of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), with text stating that Abbott “now [has] the ability to overturn Texas election results.” Validating the claim was difficult due to the sheer volume of Texas legislature efforts targeting Harris County in 2023. Senate Bill/SB 1933 was likely the legislation referenced by the meme, and SB 1933 held that “in a county with a population of 2.7 million or more, the secretary of state shall order a new election if the secretary has good cause to believe that at least two percent of the total number of polling places in the county.”
Harris County was the only county in Texas that fit the bill, so to speak. We rated the claim Decontextualized — in part because more than one bill was drafted to deprive Harris County residents of their right to vote, and in part because the bill granted election neutralizing powers to a “secretary” appointed by Texas’ governor (Greg Abbott, in this case). In essence, however, the meme was correct in its somewhat vague claim that a “new bill” enabled the nullification of elections, but only in one specific county.