|Committee on House Administration Subcommittee on Elections Ranking Member Bryan Steil (R-WI) Opening Statement As Prepared: |
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the important issue of competent election administration.
Not even a year ago, this subcommittee held a hearing called "Voting in America: The Potential for Polling Place Quality and Restrictions on Opportunities to Vote to Interfere with Free and Fair Access to the Ballot."
At that hearing, the Democratic Majority called the brand-new Harris County, Tex., Elections Administrator, Isabel Longoria, as a witness, presenting her as an expert on elections administration. The outgoing Majority had been attempting to ram through H.R. 1, a national take-over of our elections systems. However, they had failed not only to confer on this bill with state and local elections administrators, but to call as a witness a single person who had actually administered an election rather than just written about it. So, the Majority called Ms. Longoria.
The only problem? Ms. Longoria had no real experience with elections administration. In fact, when I asked if she had ever administered an election she testified, "No, everyone's gotta start somewhere". So, to be clear, at the point she sat before this subcommittee as the Democrats' so-called expert on elections administration, had never administered an election.
Yet, the Democrat County Judge—that's Texan for "county executive"—and a Democrat majority on the County Commissioners Court appointed Isabel Longoria, a partisan Democrat activist with no experience, "as Harris County's first ever Elections Administrator".
So, it came as no surprise that the March 2022 primary elections in Harris County were—to quote one of our witnesses today, Ms. Siegel—an "unmitigated disaster". The hearing title from a year ago was "The Potential for Polling Place Quality and Restrictions on Opportunities to Vote to Interfere with Free and Fair Access to the Ballot" Well it seems like that is what was delivered in Houston two weeks ago.
As we'll hear in testimony, many polling locations didn't open for over five hours, some never received equipment, others received broken equipment, numerous races were left off ballots because the wrong size paper was used, some voters were given the wrong ballots, the count finished late (and was only completed after a court order), and 10,000 ballots were "misplaced."
It is clear to me that Harris County experienced an elections disaster brought on through the sheer incompetence and inexperience of its outgoing Democrat-hand-selected Elections Administrator, who has since announced her resignation—but who won't leave until she's administered several more elections this year.
But don't take my word for it. The Editorial Board at the Houston Chronicle agreed, writing an editorial entitled, "Sorry, Dems. Republicans aren't to blame for Harris County election woes."
I ask unanimous consent to enter this article into the record.
The editorial goes on to say, "Democrats regularly accuse the GOP of undermining confidence in our elections by, among other things, curbing voter access and perpetuating fraud myths, but this week the Democratic officials running Harris County elections didn't need any help sowing distrust in a sacred democratic process. They did it all by themselves."
Some will ignore the facts on the ground and try to blame efforts by the Texas Legislature to bolster voters' confidence in election systems and outcomes. The fact is that the reconciliation sheets newly required by Texas' SB 1 are the only reason that Harris County discovered—with help from the Secretary of State's Office—that Harris County had misplaced 10,000 primary election ballots. Should today's hearing be focused on the benefits of SB 1?
What happened in Harris County during the primary election was a travesty and should never happen again. But, it was incompetence by an unelected, partisan Democrat Elections Administrator that negatively impacted voters all across Harris County, and that's a fact.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses if they agree—as reported in the Houston Chronicle—with Harris County Democrat Chair Odus Evbagharu "that further investigation is needed" or with Ms. Siegel's "call for independent oversight over the approaching May runoffs and municipal elections", given Longoria's delayed resignation.
Republicans believe every eligible voter who wants to participate should be able to cast a ballot and that every vote must be counted according to the law. That's not profound or, frankly, partisan. It's the bedrock of our system of government. I hope that the next Harris County elections administrator takes the necessary steps to ensure this goal is realized for all voters in the County.
I remain concerned that the Democrats goal is to implement a federal government takeover of our elections.
I yield back.