The Texas secretary of state’s office on Tuesday warned Harris County officials it still is missing information about the chain of custody for certain election materials in its ongoing audit of the 2020 election.
In a letter delivered days before the start of early voting in the November midterm, Chad Ennis, director of the secretary of state’s Forensic Audit Division, urged Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum to continue cooperating with the audit, as the records provided by the county so far “still leave many questions unanswered.”
“Given that early voting for the November 2022 election begins in a matter of days, there is an immediate need for us to inform you of our preliminary findings,” Ennis stated in the letter.
Accompanying the letter was a list of 14 polling locations for which the secretary of state’s office said it needs additional documentation, including NRG Arena, Toyota Center, Trini Mendenhall Community Center and Kingwood Community Center.
The office also cited one polling location where it said 401 more ballots were tabulated than expected when compared to the poll book and the number of provisional ballots cast.
Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the office sends inspectors to Harris County for every election, along with many others “if we receive requests to do so or if we determine inspectors are needed.”
“For example, we will have staff from our office on hand in Gillespie County this year because we had to train employees from their county clerk’s office after the entire Election Administration office resigned in August,” Taylor said in an email. “Most of our agency’s inspectors are former county election officials themselves, so they have the ability to catch mistakes before they happen and make sure proper chain-of-custody protocols and Texas Election Code laws are followed.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement in response to the secretary of state’s letter: “The County Attorney and our Elections Administrator are taking a close look at the allegations made in the letter and will respond as legally required and appropriate, but all indications are that the allegations are unremarkable.”
According to the letter, the Attorney General’s office also will dispatch a task force to Harris County that will be “available at all times during the election period in order to immediately respond to any legal issues identified by Secretary of State, inspectors, poll watchers, or voters.”
It was not immediately clear if the task force was a first-time initiative for this year’s midterm election. The Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Christina Beeler, a voting rights staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the letter an intimidation tactic.
“The AG’s office and the secretary of state are trying to intimidate election officials, election workers and voters in Harris County,” Beeler said. “We have no reason to trust that the secretary of state or the attorney general are acting in good faith. They support election deniers and spread lies and misinformation about the election themselves.”
Beeler questioned the attorney general office’s decision to send a task force to Harris County, particularly in an election cycle when Attorney General Ken Paxton is running for reelection.
“The only county that we are aware of that the AG’s office is targeting is Harris County,” Beeler said. “The AG’s office saying that they are going to send in the AG’s own staff members to police an election in which he’s on the ballot creates an obvious conflict of interest.”
You can see the letter here. A more detailed response from the Texas Civil Rights Project is here. I’m not going to get bogged down in the details here. There’s still no reason to trust the SOS. This matter could have been handled weeks, if not months ago, if indeed there is something that needs such a formality. And good Lord, inviting Ken Paxton to “dispatch a task force” is inviting the Big Bad Wolf to use a wrecking ball on the third pig’s brick house. Even if he himself wasn’t in an election that he could lose, he’d be far too conflicted to be allowed anywhere near this process. This is a bunch of hot garbage and should not be dignified with anything more than that as a response.