FILE – Judge David Peeples prepares to listen to arguments in a hearing about the November Harris County elections at Harris County Civil Courthouse on Aug. 1, 2023, in Houston. Following closing arguments in the first of multiple legal challenges to local election results in Harris County, the visiting judge said the decision on whether to overturn the outcome based on alleged irregularities is weeks away. Judge Peeples, who was brought in from San Antonio to decide the outcome of the lawsuit, said that he did not expect to have a ruling sooner than within a month. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP, file)
HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas judge presiding over Republicans’ widespread challenges to losses in the 2022 elections around Houston said Thursday not to expect a quick ruling following a trial in which no GOP voters came forward to testify that they were unable to vote because of ballot shortages or delayed poll openings last November.
More than 20 races disputed by Republicans are all in Harris County, the third-largest county in the U.S., which is controlled by Democrats and in recent years has become a recurring target of new Texas voting rules and restrictions passed by GOP lawmakers.
During the two-week trial, lawyers for the losing Republican candidates relied heavily on theories generated by their party members in lieu of testimony from voters or analysis from election law experts, according the Houston Chronicle.
State District Judge David Peeples said following closing arguments Thursday that he did not expect to issue a ruling for weeks.
The first lawsuit to go to trial was brought by Republican Erin Lunceford, who was running to become a local judge and lost by more than 2,700 votes out of more than 1 million cast. At the heart of the challenge by Lunceford and other losing GOP candidates is that limited paper ballot shortages and delayed poll openings at some locations on Election Day last fall turned voters away.
Lawyers for Democrat Tamika Craft, who beat Lunceford, argued that the lawsuit was part of a “master plan” by the Harris County Republican Party to challenge election results and disenfranchise thousands of voters.
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.
Harris County has nearly 5 million residents, most of whom are Hispanic or Black. It was controlled by Republicans until 2018, and two years later, Biden won the Texas’ largest county by 13 points.
The county’s elections have come under scrutiny in recent elections over issues that include long lines, poll worker shortages and ballots that weren’t counted the day of the election.
In 2021, voting legislation brought forth by Texas legislators in the state’s GOP-majority statehouse prompted a 93-day walkout by Democratic state representatives. Upon their return, Texas Republicans passed several laws based on legal challenges which the state previously brought against Harris County during the 2020 election cycle, including banning drive-thru voting and creating new requirements for voting by mail.
The changes ultimately led to protests by voting rights advocates regarding equitable accessibility to the ballot box and the rejection of more than 23,000 ballots in the first statewide primary election since the changes took place.