Texas

Harris County Republican Judge Candidate Contests Defeat After Election Day Trouble at the Polls

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Republican Alexandra del Moral Miller disputes her loss in a close race for a Harris County judge, citing recent county report on election day issues.

Some polling stations opened late and reportedly ran out of paper. But a post-election evaluation found that the investigation “has not yet revealed” whether any potential voters were turned away.

Miler ran for chief executive of Texas’s most populous county against incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo in the November 8 election and lost by 2 percentage points, or more than 18,000 votes out of an estimated 1.1 million cast. Miler relented the next day. Miler announced late Thursday night that she would apply to run in the election.

“It is unforgivable that after two months the public no longer knows whether and to what extent votes were suppressed,” Miler said. “Far from a ‘success’ as described in the report, there were significant operational problems on Election Day that cast doubt on whether the county’s failures disenfranchised voters.”

Hidalgo did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the campaign, but Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee issued a statement condemning him.

“This is a shameful attempt by a group of failed candidates who failed to win the hearts and minds of Harris County voters and are now throwing nonsensical legal theories at the wall to see what catches on,” Menefee, a Democrat, said.

District election contests are filed in the district courts of the same district in accordance with the state electoral code. It was not immediately clear whether Miler had applied for the competition.

Harris County, home of Houston, remains under scrutiny due to Election Day troubles. The court ordered the extension of voting in some polling stations after they opened late, and there were reports of a shortage of paper ballots in some polling stations.

These issues have sparked GOP lawsuits and other election contests, including by former Republican nominee for state representative loser by 15 points.

A post-election assessment released by District Electoral Administrator Clifford Tatum late last month said his office’s investigation “has yet to reveal” whether, and how many, of the district’s 782 polling stations had been turned down due to a shortage of paper ballots. He told The Texas Tribune that the report was inconclusive because his staff received conflicting or confusing information from election officials about paperwork problems.

Bob Stein, a professor of political science at Rice University, said the problems on Election Day were unlikely to be significant enough to affect the outcome of the Harris County judges’ race.

Nearly 70% of voters cast their ballots during the early voting period, but Miler only mentions problems on Election Day.

“I highly doubt there is a legitimate legal challenge here,” Stein said. “Voters were not told that they could not vote or that they needed to go home. They were discouraged because the lines were long or because they were told they would have to wait.”

These problems don’t boil down to voter suppression, Stein said, but simply suggest that there should be fewer, better-resourced polling places in Harris County.

To prove their case, Stein said, Miler’s legal team must find evidence that more than 18,000 voters failed to vote on Election Day and that all those voters planned to vote for Miler.

Disclosure: Rice University provides financial support to The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial sponsors play no role in Tribune journalism. Find the complete list them here.

Correction as of January 6, 2023: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated who decides pre-election contests in county races. Such disputes are considered by the district court of the same district, and not by the Legislature.

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