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AUSTIN — The Texas Supreme Court granted temporary relief to Harris County Elections after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton attempted to throw out last-cast votes in the November midterm election.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday afternoon that the ballots cast after 7 p.m. in Harris County on Election Day may be included in the canvass that is set to be certified on Tuesday, but the department must still keep them separate in their tabulations, per court documents.

The court said the ballots should be counted but remain separate so that candidates, parties and the court can see whether the late-cast votes would determine the outcome.

Should the inclusion of the additional ballots affect the outcome, parties can decide whether further litigation may be needed, the court said.

Harris County, home to Houston, is the most populous county in the state. State law requires votes in the November midterm to be certified today.

Harris County faced several issues in the most recent election including the late opening of many of its nearly 800 polling locations on Election Day. Due to the late start, the nonprofit Texas Organizing Project petitioned for polling locations to remain open one additional hour, until 8 p.m.

But after a flurry of legal challenges and issued opinions from different courts, the Texas Supreme Court ultimately called for the ballots cast by voters who were not in line by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be cast by provisional ballot and set aside. 

Paxton argued in his challenges that the state Election Code states that polls can only be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The county’s troubles opening on time does not allow it to remain open later, he stated.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said he was in favor of Paxton’s writ, stating that the “the law is clear, the stay issued by the Supreme Court is clear.” 

Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said in a statement that Paxton’s writ came within hours of the state’s deadline to certify votes even though the office had two weeks to file the lawsuit. 

“Republican, Democrat, or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because Ken Paxton can’t accept the results of Harris County elections,” Menefee said in a statement. “A court of law ordered our county to keep the polls open for an additional hour on Election Day and people across our county cast their ballots during that time. My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single eligible vote that was cast and ensure residents’ voices in our democratic process are not silenced.”

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