‘We stand ready to assist,’ Tarrant County says as state begins audit of 2020 election

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Few details are known about an election audit in Tarrant and three other counties announced late Thursday by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, but Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said the county is “more than ready to assist” the office.

The state office, citing “existing Texas laws,” has begun a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin counties, according to a statement, but it did not provide details about what the audit would entail, what triggered it or what specific statutes of state law allow for the audit. The Texas Legislature is expected to provide funding for the review.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who was made aware of audit was when it was announced Thursday night, said the county’s election office was in contact with the Secretary of State’s Office Friday, but that that the county had not received requests for information from the office. Whitley said the county also hasn’t received details on the logistics of the audit.

The Republican county judge does not believe there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election in Tarrant County. He expressed confidence that the election was conducted fairly and with integrity, and that the ballot board overseeing the counting of absentee ballots did “everything in their power to make sure that if a ballot was cast, it was cast by the individual whose name was on that ballot.”

“But there are people who will do everything they can to find a way to cheat, so I can’t tell you that we had a perfect deal with absolutely, 100% guarantee that there was no fraud,” he said. “But I believe that if there was any, that it was, very, very small and not one that would impact the overall outcome.”

The county is ready to help the state office, Whitley said.

“We stand ready to assist in whatever way we can, whether it be in the audit, whether it be recount, whatever it may be,” he said. “And if that will help people feel more comfortable, then I welcome the opportunity to do that.”

Whitley said the county doesn’t have legal authority to open sealed ballot boxes, but it would cooperate if legally requested to do so.

“I feel very strongly about everybody trusting in the integrity of the ballot, and if this is a way to do that, then so be it,” he said.

A spokesperson for the county said Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia is not providing interviews, and that Whitley was speaking on the county’s behalf. The county’s role in the audit process was not immediately clear.

Thousands of mail in-ballots were rejected in 2020 in Tarrant County because bar codes were not legible. The votes were recopied so the they could be counted, delaying the election results. Biden took the lead after election night in the historically red county as counting continued and eventually was declared the winner.

Donald Trump calls for election audit

The audit announcement came just hours after former President Donald Trump, a Republican, wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for an audit of the 2020 general election results, including for the presidential race. Trump won Texas with about 52% of the votes. He lost in three of the four counties being reviewed, including historically red Tarrant, where he earned 49.1% of the votes to Joe Biden’s 49.3%.

The U.S. Justice Department has said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has also previously described the 2020 election as “smooth and secure.” The Secretary of State position is vacant after Ruth Hughs resigned from the position in May.

“Despite my big win in Texas, I hear Texans want an election audit!” Trump said, advocating for an election audit bill filed during the current special session. “You know your fellow Texans have big questions about the November 2020 Election.”

Abbott would have to add a related agenda item to the special session call for lawmakers to consider election audit legislation. Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment on Trump’s letter. Questions related to the audit, including whether the governor has been in contact with the Secretary of State’s Office, were directed to the Secretary of State’s Office by a spokeswoman.

Tarrant County Republican, Democratic party officials weigh in

Rick Barnes, chair of the Tarrant County Republican Party, said the group has talked with the county’s election office, the Secretary of State’s Office and the governor’s office to share questions they have about the audit. The local party wants to know who will oversee the audit, the audit process, the deadline, and whether the audit is related to the process of voting or the results of the election.

“Frankly, there’s not a lot of answers to those questions,” he said. “I think they’re kind of in the mode of answering them themselves.”

Barnes said the party’s legal team is looking into what laws allow for the audit. Texas’ new election bill, which opponents have criticized as restricting access to the polls, includes a provision requiring randomized audits after the November general elections in even numbered years, but the law doesn’t go into effect until Dec. 2.

Also unclear is the budget for the process, he said.

As questions linger, Barnes said the Tarrant County Republican Party supports the audit.

“We are 100% in support of voter integrity in Tarrant County, and 100% in support of finding where voter integrity is not in place,” he said. “And if that includes doing an audit, we’re supportive of that.”

But the chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party said it’s already known the 2020 election “was one of the safest elections we’ve had.” Allison Campolo, the chair of the county party, called the audit a “waste of time and taxpayer money.”

She noted that there may be lawsuits filed to halt the audit, adding that it wouldn’t be the local party behind such litigation.

“It sounds like our current governor and Republican Party of Texas are not happy with the outcome of the 2020 election,”Campolo said. “They’re trying to find any caveat they can or hoping for a different outcome, which is not to going to happen.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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