Republican Mike May, citing ballot paper shortages in Harris County, contests statehouse election he lost by 15 percentage points

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, the Democratic incumbent who won by 6,176 votes on Election Day, called May’s challenge ‘frivolous” and a “political stunt.”

Texas Capitol
Haya Panjwani / KERA
The Texas House of Representatives and the state Senate both reside in the Texas Capitol building in Austin.

A Houston-area Republican who lost his state representative race by more than 6,100 votes is contesting the Nov. 8 election results, having filed a petition with the Texas Secretary of State's Office asking that the results be voided and a new election be held because of problems at Harris County polling places on Election Day.

Mike May, who lost the Texas House of Representatives race for District 135 by more than 15 percentage points against Democratic incumbent Jon Rosenthal, wrote in his Tuesday petition that because some polling locations in Harris County ran out of ballot paper on Election Day, some eligible voters "left the polling locations without voting" and the results should therefore be considered invalid.

Rosenthal, who represents parts of the Cypress and Jersey Village areas in northwest Harris County, said May's challenge is "ridiculous" in a statement released Friday, also calling it a "frivolous exercise that is more a political stunt than any type of serious complaint or concern." More than 40,000 votes were cast in the race.

"Given the small number of voting locations to experience issues, for a relatively short period of time, there simply is no numerical possibility to change the will of the voters," Rosenthal added.

Still, Texas law requires formal election contests in statehouse races to be referred to the Texas Speaker of the House for consideration. A spokesperson for the secretary of state's office said Friday the petition has been sent to House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican who must appoint a house committee to investigate the complaint as well as a special master of discovery, who can declare the petition frivolous or choose to move forward with evidence gathering, an investigation and potentially a trial on the floor of the Texas House.

Sam Taylor, the spokesperson for the secretary of state's office, said May also must make a $5,000 deposit to the Texas House to further initiate the process.

In his petition, May asked for the results of the District 135 race to be "declared void and a new election be ordered."

In order for that to happen, Taylor said May would have to prove that at least 6,176 voters – the margin of his defeat against Rosenthal – were prevented from voting because of the aforementioned issue with ballot paper. May also would have to prove that at least that many disenfranchised voters would have cast ballots for him, Taylor said.

"It's on the challenger to show that proof if they claim they have it," Taylor said.

Taylor said the last time a race for the Texas Legislature was formally contested was 2010, when Republican challenger Dan Neill lost by 12 votes against incumbent State Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat from Austin. Howard's win ultimately was upheld.

May's challenge drew sharp criticism from Odus Evbagharu, the chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, who called it an "absolute joke that reeks of Republican desperation."

"The only purpose of this claim is to spread election denial and QAnon conspiracies in order to instill doubt in voters' minds," Evbagharu added in a Friday statement posted on Twitter.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in a Nov. 14 letter shared on social media, called for an investigation into Harris County's election administration because of the ballot paper shortages, delayed openings of some polling locations on Election Day and staffing shortages of polling places. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg subsequently launched a probe based on a referral from the secretary of state's office, asking the Texas Rangers for assistance with the investigation.

Also Nov. 14, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum and the county itself, alleging Tatum violated Texas election laws and "illegally disenfranchised tens of thousands of registered voters from casting their votes." But the suit seeks only injunctive relief from a state district court and does not seek to overturn the results of any races.

May's challenge seeks to nullify the results of his race and his race only.

"The point of this election contest is to call into question the 2022 election in Harris County and lay the groundwork to force a redo," Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, a Democrat, said in a Friday statement. "I'm hopeful Speaker Dade Phelan will see to it that this frivolous case is quickly thrown as the law permits. And I trust that he will ensure a fair process before impartial legislators, without interference from state leaders and other elected officials who have a history of making baseless claims against Harris County elections."