WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, April 13, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1933, a bill that would empower the secretary of state to seize election authority from county officials. The bill passed on a party line vote, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against. It now heads to the Republican-controlled House.
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.
In recent years, Texas state officials have clashed with local election administrators who aim to expand voting access, especially in Democratic strongholds like Harris County, home to Houston. Other legislation moving this session would similarly wrestle control from local administrators. For example, Senate Bill 1750 would eliminate the position of election administrator in counties with a population of 3.5 million or more (Harris County is the only county with this many people) and Senate Bill 1993 would give the secretary of state the authority to order an election to be rerun in counties with a population of more than 2.7 million (again, only Harris County would qualify) under certain circumstances. S.B. 1750 and S.B. 1993 have both advanced out of committee and await a vote on the full Senate floor.
Within the past week, the Texas Senate has advanced other anti-voting bills. Several were approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee, while others passed the full Senate and moved on to the state House. Given Republican control of the legislative process in Texas, all of these bills have a good chance at being enacted into law.