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Some vote centers in Harris County, Texas, ran out of ballots on Election Day in November. The Houston Chronicle found that the sites were without ballots from 15 minutes to three hours.
The Texas Senate voted in favor of SB 1993, which says the secretary of state will call for a new election if a county runs out of ballots at 2% of voting sites.
The bill says it applies only to counties with a population of at least 2.7 million people, which means it applies only to Harris County.
Some polling sites in left-leaning Harris County, Texas, ran out of ballots on Election Day in November, inspiring Republican state lawmakers to seek to enable the state to call for redo elections — but only in one county.
"Texas Republicans just voted to give a Republican appointee the power to single-handedly CANCEL election results in the state’s largest Democratic county," stated a May 2 Facebook post.
The post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
This post is largely correct although it omits the inspiration for the legislation. As of this writing, it has passed only one chamber.
The bill says the secretary of state will order a new election if the secretary has "good cause" to believe that at least 2% of polling places ran out of usable ballots during voting hours and did not receive supplemental ballots for one or more hours after requesting such ballots. The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office is responsible for operating local voting sites.
But the bill applies only to a county with a population of "2.7 million or more" — which covers only Harris County, home to Houston and about 4.7 million residents. (Dallas County is next-largest with about 2.6 million residents.) Democrat Joe Biden won Harris County in 2020 and in November, Democrats won county races.
Texas’ secretary of state is Jane Nelson, a former Republican state senator who was nominated by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
Harris County voters can cast their ballot at any vote center on Election Day, which means if they encounter a ballot shortage at one site, they can go to another center.
"There is no reason, there is no excuse why we can’t competently run our elections and have adequate ballot paper," said state Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, one of the bill sponsors.
Voting rights advocates have raised concerns about the legislation.
"As written, the bill does not clearly define ‘good cause’ and that is a serious problem that could easily throw our elections into chaos," said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a group aiming to keep elections free, fair and accessible.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, a Democrat, said he will sue if the bill is enacted. Menefee spokesperson Roxanne Werner said courts sometimes permit a law to apply only to counties with populations over a certain threshold, but she added that there must be a reasonable basis for a law beyond targeting one county.
The Texas Supreme Court wrote that the state Constitution seeks uniformity of law throughout the state to avoid "the advancement of personal rather than public interests."
How many Harris County vote centers ran out of ballots in November is in dispute.
KHOU-TV, a CBS affiliate, reported that it "discovered 121 voting centers did not initially receive enough ballot paper to cover voter turnout." Some Republican lawmakers have cited that 121 number.
But note the word "initially."
The Houston Chronicle found a similar number of vote centers that did not initially receive enough ballots, but some of those locations received deliveries of more ballots before a shortage occurred. At least 20 of 782 polling sites ran out of ballots "some for only 15 minutes and others for up to three hours," the newspaper found.
Rice University political scientist Robert Stein, a paid consultant to KHOU and an expert witness on the county’s behalf, told PolitiFact he started his own analysis by asking: "Was there a disruption in voting?" Stein said he identified 26 locations with voting stoppages of 20 or more minutes that could have been because of a shortage of ballots.
The November 2022 election marked the first time Harris County used the paper ballot system in a major midterm election. The elections office has since adopted procedures to more quickly flag problems.
The Facebook post referred to the "state’s largest Democratic county." There are different ways to measure that term, but among the multiple counties in the state that voted blue in November, Harris County is the most populous.
A Facebook post said "Texas Republicans just voted to give a Republican appointee the power to single-handedly CANCEL election results in the state’s largest Democratic county."
The post cites Senate Bill 1993, which directs the secretary of state — who is a Republican appointee — to order a new election if at least 2% of polling places ran out of ballots. The bill passed the state Senate but would apply only to a county with at least 2.7 million voters, which translates to only left-leaning Harris County.
But the House has not yet voted on the bill. And the post omits that the legislation was prompted by Election Day ballot shortages in Harris County.
We rate this statement Mostly True.
RELATED: All of our fact-checks about Texas
Facebook post, May 2, 2023
Texas Senate Bill 1993, 2023
Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace, Tweet, May 2, 2023
Houston Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, State GOP seeks say in local elections, May 2, 2023
Houston Chronicle, No, 121 Harris County polling places did not run out of ballot paper. Blame misleading messaging. April 20, 2023
KHOU, KHOU 11 analysis: Election ballot paper shortage bigger than estimated, Jan. 30, 2023
Texas Tribune, The 13 election bills to watch as the Texas Legislature heads into its last month, May 2, 2023
Houston Public Media, GOP election judges say Nov. 2022 ballot shortages were intentional. Months later, no evidence has surfaced backing them up, April 24, 2023
Common Cause Texas, New Common Cause Report: Texas Voters Faced Preventable Challenges at the Polls in 2022, Feb. 22, 2022
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, Tweet, May 2, 2023
Email interview, Anthony Gutierrez, Common Cause Texas executive director, May 3, 2023
Telephone interview, Nadia Hakim, Harris County elections spokesperson, May 3, 2023
Telephone interview, Rice University political science professor Robert Stein, May 3, 2023
Email interview, Roxanne Werner, spokesperson for Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, May 3, 2023
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