As multiple reports of voter suppression and voting system vulnerability continue to emerge from Texas, new documents obtained by American Oversight offer an inside look at the troublingly close relationships between election officials and voting-restriction advocates in the Lone Star State.
The documents, obtained through public records requests as part of our State Accountability Project, include emails from Hans von Spakovsky, who runs the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative. Spakovsky asks the Texas secretary of state’s office for help with his organization’s “ongoing election integrity initiative,” a database of alleged examples of voter fraud. Spakovsky boasts that the database contains “1,132 instances” already, “including several from Texas.”
Emails also confirm that Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram attended a February 2019 Heritage Foundation election briefing, the same month he was elected president of the National Association of Election Directors.
Additional documents from mid-2018 to early 2019 contain text messages between Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes and Ingram. In the texts, Hughes sends Ingram a screenshot of a tweet that contains photos of a fake voter guide alleged to have been distributed at a megachurch in Texas, and a link to “real voter guides” available from Vision America, a conservative American Christian organization. Below the screenshot, Hughes says that he expects that Ingram will “be receiving an election law complaint on this,” and that Brantley Starr, a Trump-appointed U.S. district judge, “is ready for it.”
Other documents from the Texas attorney general’s office contain 2017 meetings between Judge Brantley Starr and Catherine Engelbrecht. Engelbrecht is the founder of True the Vote, a conservative voting-restriction advocacy group that was investigated by Congress in 2010 for voter suppression.
Perhaps even more concerning are records from Starr County, which reveal that Texas election officials were subject to three phishing attempts in the six months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. Directives obtained by American Oversight show that Ingram issued several directives warning officials of these attempts, and even created an email address where officials could report phishing attempts.
As more sophisticated cyber-attack methods are developed by the day, voting system vulnerability remains a nationwide threat to democracy in advance of the 2020 election — especially in the country’s second-most populous state.
American Oversight continues to investigate state-level threats to democracy in Texas, Florida, and Georgia. More information about our ongoing investigations is available here.
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