Inspectors from the Texas Secretary of State and Attorney General’s Election Integrity Team have been sent to Harris County to observe and monitor voting processes.
Inspectors were sent after numerous voting irregularities were reported after the 2020 election and 2022 March primary election and after the state began auditing Harris County’s 2020 election procedures.
In a letter to Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum dated Oct. 18, Chad Ennis, director of the Forensic Audit Division in the Secretary of State’s Office, said his office’s ongoing audit of Harris County “has revealed serious breaches of proper elections records management in the handling of Mobile Ballot Boxes (MBBs) during the November 2020 General Election.”
He also noted that his office received cooperation from the three other counties being audited, but “we cannot say the same of our experience working with your predecessor,” who was forced to resign after the March primary election.
The former county election administrator, Isabel Longoria, resigned after 10,000 ballots hadn’t been counted, and after other election irregularities and problems were uncovered including not counting all the votes within the timeframe established by law.
It was only after Tatum came into office, Ennis said, that his office received any level of cooperation. However, the records Tatum’s office provided “leave many questions unanswered,” he said.
According to his office’s audit, pollbook and provisional data provided by Harris County don’t match the number of counted votes recorded (CVRs) in the MBBs. The county’s audit logs don’t “reflect the creation of the MBBs ultimately tabulated or enable us to trace the votes tabulated back to the polling location without significant breaks in the chain of custody.” Numerous other deficiencies exist, including voter records that don’t match pollbook information, indicating excess votes were recorded. There were also a least 14 locations “where chain-of-custody documentation is lacking at best and missing at worst,” he wrote.
The Secretary of State’s Office has dispatched election security trainers to Harris County to assist the county throughout the election period from early voting, which began Monday, to Election Day, and through tabulation. They will observe the central count during the election cycle to ensure the county establishes appropriate procedures, he said.
Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office has dispatched a task force to Harris County to be available at all times throughout the election process to “immediately respond to any legal issues identified by the Secretary of State, inspectors, poll watchers, or voters.”
The task force consists of lawyers, investigators, support staff, and other resources to ensure the election runs transparently and securely.
Paxton’s office is encouraging Texans to send information about alleged violations of the Texas Election Code via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
His office also published a public service announcement educating Texans about their voting rights.
It states that while all legally registered voters have the right to vote however they choose, “It is a crime for anyone assisting you while voting to suggest, by word, sign, or gesture, how you should vote.”
When it comes to avoiding ballot fraud, the PSA warns, “An elections official will rarely approach you at your home or outside of your polling place to offer assistance or take your ballot. Do not give your ballot to any person you do not trust.”
It also states, “It is a crime for a vote harvester to collect your mail ballot from you. If you are physically incapable of depositing your own ballot in the mail, you have the right to request assistance from someone you trust.”
Secretary of State John Scott announced in July that his office would be auditing Harris County’s 2020 and 2022 elections after the 2022 midterm elections. His office already began auditing the 2020 election results and processes in Harris, Cameron, Eastland, and Guadalupe counties.
The audits stem from the Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021, which the legislature passed and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law. It requires the Secretary of State’s office to “conduct an audit of the elections held in four counties during the previous two years.”
By Bethany Blankley