As electoral disputes mount, one Texas court case takes center stage
Jul 31, 2023, 9:11 PM
HOUSTON (AP) — Elections in Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, the state’s biggest city, are coming under the microscope this week as the Democratic stronghold faces unprecedented intervention from the state’s GOP-led Legislature.
Various problems in last November’s midterm elections will be center stage in a civil trial beginning Tuesday. Erin Lunceford, a GOP candidate who lost her bid to become a district court judge in Harris County is suing to throw out the election results and have the court order a do over.
Similar court challenges have become more common around the country following baseless conspiracy theories spread by former President Donald Trump and his supporters alleging the 2020 presidential election was stolen by President Joe Biden’s backers.
The Texas Legislature passed new laws this year eliminating Harris County’s top election office and permitting the state to take over more easily after a complaint is filed.
Lunceford’s lawyers allege she lost in part because of paper ballot shortages that targeted Republican voting locations. They also argue election officials made mistakes allowing illegal votes to be cast. Her opponent, Democrat Tamika Craft, won the election by 2,743 votes out of more than 1 million cast.
Craft’s lawyers and Harris County officials say there’s no evidence that ballot shortages or other problems prevented people from voting or that illegal voting took place.
Lunceford’s lawsuit is one of nearly two dozen similar ones filed by GOP candidates in Harris County who lost in November. Her lawsuit is the first that will go to trial.
“These are mistakes that cause doubt about the outcome,” Andy Taylor, one of Lunceford’s attorneys, said during a court hearing last week.
He said the lawsuit details 17 examples of election problems. In addition to the ballot shortage, other problems listed include mistakes in ballot scanning and with reviewing signatures on mail-in ballots.
Kevin Haynes, one of Craft’s lawyers, said Lunceford’s attorneys are using a “kitchen sink” approach to make numerous allegations that rely on “wildly speculative evidence.”
“Once they have finally at long last put their cards on the table, it is very clear they have no evidence,” Haynes said.
Election denialism is likely to make its way into the trial, which is expected to last two weeks and be decided by a judge. During a court hearing last week, Haynes said one of Lunceford’s experts has indicated “Biden stole the (2020) election.”
Elections in the nation’s third-most populous county — and one with large numbers of Hispanic and Black voters — have been scrutinized for several years now. Some polling locations on Nov. 8 opened late or had long lines due to problems with voting machines. During the March 2022 primary, there was a shortage of poll workers and about 10,000 mail ballots weren’t counted the day of the election.
A report released in July by the Alliance for Securing Democracy looked at Harris County’s November election as well as two other recent ones in counties in Arizona and Michigan. The organization found administrative mistakes were being used to help “erode faith in U.S. elections.”
“They want to take those mistakes and suggest without additional evidence that those mistakes are enough to justify overturning the results of an election,” said David Levine, one of the report’s authors and a former local election official in Idaho. He’s now a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.
“That’s a really dangerous place to be for a healthy democracy,” he said.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said it’s going to be tough for Lunceford’s attorneys to show the alleged voting problems were enough to swing the election.
A victory in Lunceford’s case or the other lawsuits “would set the bar really high for how to run an election. I mean, elections are run by people and people make mistakes,” Rottinghaus said.
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