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A dozen losing Republican candidates in Harris County have filed election contests to void the results of their races in the November 2022 election, according to the Harris County attorney’s office.
Among the challengers are Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, who ran to be the chief executive of Texas’ most populous county against Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo in the Nov. 8 election. She lost by 2 percentage points, or over 18,000 votes out of roughly 1.1 million cast. Mealer conceded the following day.
She announced late Thursday she would file an election contest, citing the county’s recent report on Election Day issues. Mealer is asking the court to declare her the winner of the race or void the November election and hold a new one, according to court documents.
Some November polling sites opened late and reportedly ran out of paper. But the post-election assessment said its investigation “has not yet revealed” whether any potential voters were turned away.
“It is inexcusable that after two months, the public is no further in knowing if, and to what extent, votes were suppressed,” Mealer said. “Far from being a ‘success,’ as the report characterizes, there were serious operational issues that occurred throughout Election Day that call into question whether the county’s failures denied voters their right to vote.”
Hidalgo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the election contest, but Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee issued a statement denouncing it. His office said 11 other losing GOP candidates filed election contests Friday, the deadline for filing election contests for the 2022 election. Most challenges have come from candidates who ran for judicial offices.
“This is a shameful attempt by a group of losing candidates who couldn’t win the hearts and minds of Harris County voters and are now throwing nonsensical legal theories at the wall to see what sticks,” said Menefee, a Democrat.
Harris County, home to Houston, has remained under scrutiny for the Election Day issues. A court ordered voting to go on an extra hour at some polling places after they opened late, and there were reports of paper-ballot shortages at locations as well.
The issues have drawn GOP lawsuits and other election contests, including from a former Republican candidate for state representative who lost by 15 points.
The post-election assessment, which county elections administrator Clifford Tatum released late last month, said his office’s investigation “has not yet revealed” whether, or how many of, the county’s 782 polling sites had to turn away voters due to insufficient paper ballots. He told The Texas Tribune that the report was inconclusive because his staff received conflicting or confusing information from election workers about the paper problems.
The Election Day problems were unlikely to have been substantial enough to swing the results of the Harris County judge’s race, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.
Nearly 70% of voters cast their ballots during the early voting period, but Mealer cites issues only on Election Day itself.
“I’m extremely doubtful that there is a legitimate legal challenge here,” Stein said. “It’s not like voters were told they couldn’t vote or that they had to go home. They were discouraged because the lines were long, or because they were told they’d have to wait.”
Those challenges do not amount to voter suppression, Stein said, but merely suggest that Harris County should operate fewer, better-resourced polling locations.
To make its case, Mealer’s legal team will have to find evidence that more than 18,000 voters were unable to cast ballots on Election Day, and that all of those voters planned to vote for Mealer, Stein said.
Among the other Republicans who have filed challenges are nine criminal or civil judicial candidates; Chris Daniel, who lost the race for Harris County district clerk; and Mike May, who lost the race for state House District 13.
Votebeat and Texas Tribune reporter Natalia Contreras contributed to this story.
Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Correction, Jan. 6, 2023: A previous version of this article misstated who decides election contests for county races. A district court in the same county handles such contests, not the Legislature.