Texas judge orders new election after GOP lawsuit challenged 2022 election result in Houston area


The Associated Press

HOUSTON A Texas judge has ruled in favor of a Republican candidate challenging the results in a 2022 judicial race and ordered that a new election be held in the nation’s third-most populous county, a Democratic stronghold that’s been beset by GOP efforts to dictate how ballots are cast.

A losing GOP candidate in a November 2022 judicial race had filed a lawsuit calling for a new election in her contest in Harris County, where Houston is located. Republican Tami Pierce lost her race to be a criminal court judge to the Democratic incumbent, DaSean Jones, by 449 votes.

Pierce blamed her defeat on allegations that illegal votes were cast by people who did not live in the county and that some ballots lacked needed signatures and other information. In court documents, Jones’ attorney, Oliver Brown, argued that Pierce could not prove there were sufficient illegal or mistaken votes cast in the judicial race that would “materially affect this election.”

But in a 32-page ruling issued Wednesday, visiting Judge David Peeples ruled in favor of Pierce, saying 1,430 illegal votes were cast in the race.

Peeple wrote that among the illegal votes, 983 were cast by people living outside Harris County and 445 were cast by voters who did not show photo identification or did not show a substitute ID document.

“The true outcome in the contest for Judge of the 180th District Court cannot be determined, and a new election is therefore ordered,” Peeples wrote.

Peeples’ ruling, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, came after a two-day trial in April.

A date for the new election was not immediately set as Peeples wrote that he first needed to discuss this with attorneys in the case.

Brown did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment. He told other news outlets he planned to appeal the ruling.

Paul Simpson, an attorney for Pierce, praised Peeple’s ruling and said “voluminous, detailed evidence” revealed many problems with the 2022 election.

“We hope Judge Jones will not further delay justice by appealing but, instead, face Harris County voters in a new election when ordered by the court,” Simpson said in a statement.

Harris County GOP Chairman Cindy Siegel said voters “can now have some faith restored in our electoral process.”

But Mike Doyle, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, was critical of the GOP’s efforts to overturn the election results, saying in statement that “because they won’t stop fighting Harris County voting results when they lose, they will just need to lose again in a completely unnecessary and unjustified re-do.”

Peeples’ ruling in Pierce’s lawsuit came six-months after he threw out most of the 21 lawsuits that had been filed by GOP candidates challenging their losses in the November 2022 election. Pierce’s lawsuit had been the sole unresolved case.

In his ruling from last year related to a lawsuit in another judicial race, Peeples wrote he had “found many mistakes” and violations of the election code in Harris County. But not enough votes in the race between candidates Erin Lunceford and Tamika Craft were put in doubt to justify voiding that election, he wrote.

Harris County, which President Joe Biden won by double-digits in 2020, has become a recurring target of GOP lawmakers who have rushed to impose stricter voting measures and passed a law in 2023 that could allow the state to take over the county’s elections.

The lawsuits in Houston followed similar court challenges that 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.

Elections have been scrutinized for several years now in Harris County — which has nearly 5 million residents, most of whom are Latino or Black. Problems have included long lines, poll worker and ballot shortages and ballots that were not counted the day of the election.

Harris County, like much of the rest of Texas, previously voted Republican. But demographic changes in the county have been trending toward residents who are younger and minorities, groups who tend to vote Democratic, experts say. The state’s other large urban areas, like Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio, also vote Democratic.

In recent years, new elections have been ordered in races in other parts of the country due to various problems.

In November, a judge ordered a new election for mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut, after finding surveillance videos showed people stuffing absentee ballots into outdoor collection boxes. In December, a judge in Louisiana ordered a new election in a sheriff’s race after finding evidence that a handful of ballots were cast illegally.