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Harris County elections under scrutiny from Texas Republicans

The Secretary of State claims during the 2020 election there were “chain of custody” issues that are of concern.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County elections are coming under scrutiny again from statewide elected Republicans.

A task force from the Texas Attorney General’s Office will accompany Secretary of State inspectors to monitor voting in one of the nation’s largest counties.

The Secretary of State claims during the 2020 election there were “chain of custody” issues that are of concern.

It was announced in a letter addressed from state Republican leaders to Harris County.

“Number 1 it’s feeding into the former president’s big lie,” said Harris County Democratic Chair Odus Evbagharu.

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The letter came just weeks away from Election Day, but Democrats in Harris County, which turned blue in 2018, are pushing back.

“It’s sowing mistrust and distrust in our election process,” Evbaharu, who also sits on the county elections commission said.

Secretary of State John Scott’s letter concerning the 2020 election said they have identified 14 locations where chain of custody documentation is “lacking at best and missing at worst.”

The office pinpointed some of the county’s biggest polling places. Republicans say it was a breach of over 100,000 votes.

“The public wants to know that everybody can go register and go vote once and their vote counts. That’s why you have state and federal laws to make sure you can double check that occurred and that’s how to get integrity in the voting system,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt said.

The Secretary of State will send inspectors to monitor vote counting, which is a common practice, as well as a task force from the Attorney General’s office— which is facing some criticism.

“When Republicans were in charge and when Democrats were in charge it doesn’t matter. You got state election inspectors in major urban areas in the state so whoever’s playing that card is playing preposterous politics,” Bettencourt said.

Democrats said they are reaching out to the Justice Department to make sure the state isn’t being nefarious

“Them adding new people is nothing different and this Attorney General’s task force, we don’t even know if it’s going to be real lawyers or we don’t know if this is going to be MAGA republican extremist coming here to sow more distrust,” Evbagharu said.

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The Secretary of State’s office released the following statement regarding the situation:

“Our office sends inspectors to Harris County for every election, and we send inspectors to many other counties if we receive requests to do so or if we determine inspectors are needed. So, yes, we’ll be sending inspectors to most large counties in Texas, and even some small-medium sized counties, as we do for every single election. 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. 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 property chain-of-custody protocols and Texas Election Code laws are followed.

“As for specific locations, they will usually be present in several different polling places and will go where needed if they are made aware of issues or disputes over proper election law protocol.

The elections administrator is reviewing the letter in conjunction with the harris county attorney's office— the office said in part  they “are focused foremost on ensuring this election runs smoothly."

Clifford Tatum, the new Harris County Elections Administrator issued the following statement on the subject:

"The Harris County Election Administrator’s Office received the attached letter Tuesday evening from the Forensic Audit Division of the Texas Secretary of State regarding the Harris County 2020 General Election audit. The Elections Administrator is reviewing the letter in conjunction with the Harris County Attorney's Office. As you know we're just five days from the start of Early Voting for the November 8 election, and we are focused foremost on ensuring this election runs smoothly."

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also responded to the letter with the following statement:

“Harris County has a track record of running free, fair, and safe elections without any evidence of systemic or widespread voter fraud.  That said, every jurisdiction can make improvements to make voting even easier and more secure. That is why we have always worked with anyone who in good faith wants to ensure an even smoother election here in Harris County. 

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. Here is what we already know: 

First, Harris County’s 2020 elections were declared "smooth and secure” by Ruth Hughs, Governor Abbott’s own appointed Secretary of State at the time, and this letter does not actually claim that there were any discrepancies or any other issues with the 2020 election results. 

Second, the timing of the letter is–at best–suspicious. It was sent just days before the start of early voting, potentially in an attempt to sabotage county efforts by sowing doubt in the elections process, or equally as bad, by opening the door to possible inappropriate state interference in Harris County’s elections. Not only this, but this letter threatens to distract county staff from running a smooth election, potentially puts election workers at risk of new threats and harassment, and could interfere with the timeliness of the count because of unnecessary red tape.

Third, this continues a pattern of overreach by state officials at the behest of election deniers and former President Donald Trump himself. The letter stems from the forensic audit that Governor Abbott announced just hours after being pressured by Mr. Trump to do so on September 23, 2021.

As always, Harris County will comply with the law and work to ensure that voters have access and trust in the system. What that means is that we will give the state any information required by law, but our attorneys will be ready to fight, to the full extent of the law, against any efforts to interfere with our processes, intimidate our election workers, or turn the election count into a political stunt aimed at calling into question the election results."

You can read the full letter from Secretary of State John Scott below:

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