Healthy and General

Harris County to face yet another election audit

5 min read

Harris County will be one of four Texas counties to undergo an audit of its upcoming November election results by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

It will be the second election audit in two years for Harris County, though the first to be conducted under election law the state legislature passed in 2021.

Eastland, Cameron and Guadalupe counties were selected for the audit process, as well.

By state law, four counties are to be audited at random every two years, two with a population greater than 300,000 and two counties with smaller populations. There are 18 Texas counties with populations greater than 300,000, meaning the state’s large urban counties will face the most audits. Texas has 254 counties.

The audits are to be conducted after November elections in all even-numbered years, and they will look at elections in the four selected counties from the preceding two years. The counties selected will not have to pay for the audits.

On Twitter, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee questioned the randomness of the selection process. In response, the secretary of state’s office tweeted a link to a video on Facebook that showed the process — the names of large counties and smaller counties are printed on individual labels, and then the four counties are drawn from a bucket. When an employee drops the labels of the large counties into the bucket, it does not happen on camera.

Menefee’s office put out a statement in which the county attorney called the latest audit a ‘waste of time.”

“Harris County will comply, as we’ve always done,’ Menefee said. “But this is a waste of time. Last year the state coincidentally launched an audit of the county’s 2020 election just hours after former President Trump called on the governor to do so. That audit has been consuming the resources of our Elections Administrator’s office at a time where they’ve had to hold a record number of elections. By the way, that audit has still not been completed.

“Now, the state has ‘randomly’ selected Harris County to be audited for the 2022 election,” the statement continues. “Voters should be asking themselves what purpose these audits serve beyond wasting taxpayer money. As has been shown time and again, our elections are secure. The entire premise of these audits—that there is widespread fraud in our elections—is false.”

In response to the new audit, Beth Stevens, Harris County’s interim elections administrator, said in a statement: “The EA’s Office welcomes transparency and looks forward to continuing to work with the Secretary of State’s office to complete all of the audits.”

Harris County has drawn intense scrutiny from conservative lawmakers for its elections over the last several years, particularly the 2020 presidential election when the county adopted drive-thru voting and other strategies to make it easier to cast ballots during the pandemic. Those measures inspired last year’s election security legislation that ignited an historic partisan battle at the Capitol.

That law has made it more arduous to cast mail ballots and led to a large number of them being tossed.

In September 2021, the secretary of state’s office announced it had begun a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” of the 2020 election in four Texas counties, including Dallas, Harris and Tarrant — the state’s three largest counties, all of which voted for President Joe Biden. The audit also encompassed Collin County, the largest in Texas carried by former President Donald Trump.

State law establishing the new audit process specifies: “a county selected in the most recent audit cycle may not be selected in the current audit cycle.” Though Harris County’s 2020 election results currently are being examined under a “forensic audit” by the state, the county still is eligible for a new audit in the current cycle because they are separate audit processes, according to Texas Secretary of State spokesperson Sam Taylor. He confirmed Harris County will not be eligible for an audit in the following election cycle.

In this year’s March primary elections, counting and announcements of results in Harris County were delayed after a series of glitches and mistakes in the elections office. The former elections administrator, Isabel Longoria, resigned as a result.

The Harris County GOP, which has been deeply critical of the county elections office, tweeted in response to the audit announcement: “This is good news for all Harris County voters. Texans deserve transparency in our elections.”

Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu issued a statement questioning the state’s decision to spend taxpayer money further investigating election results when there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas.

“There are already review processes in place,” Evbagharu said. “Why keep wasting money and time that would be better spent on things like improving our schools, ensuring public safety, or fixing our power grid?

Commissioners Court passed a resolution in September denouncing the state audit of the county’s 2020 election results as a sham, with the three Democrats in favor and the two Republicans against.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said he welcomes the new audit.

“If there was ever a county that needs auditing, it’s Harris County. When you look at the problems we’ve had in our last elections under the previous elections administrator, it’s a very, very long list and very disconcerting to voters out there,” Ramsey said. “I know the selection was random. It is providential that Harris County will be audited because it needs to be audited.”

The county’s new elections administrator, Clifford Tatum, is expected to take over the position in mid-August. Tatum served as general counsel for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission from 2015 to 2019. He is the former executive director of the District of Columbia Board of Elections, and served as the interim director for the Georgia State Elections Division.

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