Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has opened an investigation into possible criminal conduct in the county’s administration of last week’s midterm election, when some polling places opened late and others ran out of ballot paper, among other issues. She also has asked state authorities to assist with the probe.
Ogg confirmed the investigation, first reported by the New York Times, in a Wednesday statement to Houston Public Media. She made her request for assistance in a M0nday email to the Texas Rangers, saying her office had received a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office about “alleged irregularities” that “potentially may include criminal conduct” in Harris County, according to the Times.
“Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy,” Ogg said in her statement. “When we get credible complaints of election irregularities, we are statutorily required to investigate. That's why we've called for the assistance of the Texas Rangers.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who won re-election statewide on Nov. 8 but received fewer votes than Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in Harris County, called for such an investigation in a Monday letter he shared on social media. He asked for inquiries by the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety; by the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections in Texas; and by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, headed by fellow Republican Ken Paxton, who also lost in the state’s largest county but was re-elected nonetheless.
Also Monday, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum and the county itself, alleging that Tatum violated Texas election laws by prematurely releasing early voting results on election night, by instructing poll workers to issue second ballots to voters who could not properly scan their original ballots and by pressuring election judges to allow results to be picked up from polling places by county personnel, among other violations. The lawsuit claims Harris County's election was run in a way that "illegally disenfranchised tens of thousands of registered voters from casting their votes," although it seeks only injunctive relief from a state district court and does not seek to overturn the results of any races.
Tatum said in a statement Monday that his office is "fully committed to transparency regarding the processes and procedures implemented" during the midterm.
Odus Evbagharu, the chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, said in a statement Wednesday that the party supports a thorough review of the election but does “not agree with urging the prosecution of election workers for faithfully doing their jobs in support of the Democratic process.” He also derided the investigation launched by Ogg, saying the district attorney has an “eye on scoring political points rather than having true concern about identifying and solving the issues that impacted the midterm elections in Harris County.”
"With DA Ogg following in the footsteps of Gov. Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the (Harris County Republican Party), she is enabling election deniers and QAnon conspiracy theorists,” Evbagharu added. “We cannot be helping amplify false rhetoric in the battle to preserve our democracy, freedom, and rights.”
The focal point of Ogg’s investigation, and what sort of criminal charges could arise from it, are not immediately clear. Both the Texas Secretary of State’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice dispatched monitors to Harris County, which includes Houston, during the election. And the secretary of state’s office already has selected Harris County to be part of its 2022 election audit, as it did after the 2020 election.
Regarding Abbott’s call for an investigation into Harris County’s election, Evbagharu called it “political theater” earlier in the week. Republicans lost a key race for Harris County Judge, in which incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo held off challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, and Democrats also flipped a seat on the county commissioners court, giving them a 4-1 advantage.
“The results of their investigation will be turned over to a Harris County grand jury,” Ogg, a Democrat, said of the Texas Rangers. “We do this regardless of the party affiliation of the complainants. After the 2020 election, we charged three Democrats and two Republicans. It is my duty as the elected District Attorney to follow the evidence and follow the law, and I will.”