American Oversight has obtained records in response to our investigation into the Texas secretary of state’s “full forensic audit” of 2020 election results in four counties. The documents contain emails that suggest confusion about the investigation’s scope and timeline following the secretary of state office’s sudden announcement on Sept. 23, 2021 that it had “already begun the process.”
The documents we obtained include communications sent by election officials in Collin and Tarrant counties from November 2020 to mid-October 202l and back up previous reports that county officials were given no advance notice and little guidance on how and when the audit would be conducted.
The audit was announced late on Sept. 23, just hours after former President Donald Trump publicly pressured Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate the election and to back legislation that would pave the way for future audits. The secretary of state’s office said it would investigate results in the state’s two largest Democratic and two largest Republican counties — Dallas and Harris, and Tarrant and Collin, respectively, though Tarrant narrowly went to Biden in 2020 — and provided no explanation for the sudden announcement.
There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas. In 2020, American Oversight obtained records indicating that the “election integrity unit” in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office resolved just 16 relatively minor prosecutions despite pouring significant taxpayer resources into that effort.
In one email sent the day the secretary of state’s office announced the audit was already underway, Collin County Election Administrator Bruce Sherbet told members of his office that the audit would “begin in November (provided they get funding for it).” Sherbet said that the information came from Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram, who had months earlier called the state’s 2020 elections “smooth and secure.”
In an email sent on Sept. 24, Collin County Commissioner Darrell Hale asked Sherbet and County Administrator Bill Bilyeu for more information, writing, “What is the story? What’s going on?”
In response, Sherbet said that he had “Just heard about it last night” and was “Not sure of any details.” The records suggest that the officials received little further information about the investigation in the next few days: On Sept. 27, Hale responded to a citizen who expressed frustrations about the audit, writing, “We are curious on the details ourselves.”
In Tarrant County, Elections Administrator Heider Garcia responded to the secretary of state’s Sept. 23 press release by instructing election officials not to make any comments until the secretary of state’s office contacted the county to “tell us what they need from us,” and advising staff to forward all media inquiries to him.
On Sept. 29, a newsletter from the Texas Association of Election Administrators, for which Garcia serves as treasurer, was sent to election officials. The newsletter directed members across the state to “Take a look at the scope of the two phases of the proposed audits and use it as a way to anticipate a future one in your county.”
American Oversight also recently received communication records from Montgomery County regarding election audits and H.B. 241, which had been introduced by state Rep. Steve Toth over the summer and called for an audit of 2020 election results in Texas’s largest 13 counties, most of which were won by Biden, conducted by a third party appointed by the state’s Republican leaders. The records show Toth’s office asking a county judge for a statement supporting the bill, which did not advance.
American Oversight will continue to investigate the election audit in Texas and similar democracy-undermining efforts across the country. We have filed more than a dozen related public information requests in Texas and continue to seek communications from election officials in Dallas and Harris counties, as well as other records with the potential to shed light on Texas’s baseless audit.
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