Hidalgo calls state election audit a ‘sham’ and an assault on democracy to appease Trump – Houston Chronicle
Harris County Judge on Friday called a state election audit in Harris and three other counties a sham and an “irresponsible political trick.”
Harris County leaders on Friday blasted the Texas secretary of state’s decision to conduct a comprehensive “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in four counties, including Harris, as a political ploy to appease conspiracy theorists and former President Donald Trump.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo accused Gov. Greg Abbott of trying to curry favor with the former president, who on Thursday called for an audit of the Texas results, despite comfortably carrying the state in his unsuccessful bid for re-election. She likened the effort to audits in Arizona and Pennsylvania, which have failed to find major errors in vote tallying.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities in Harris County’s 2020 election, where a record 1.7 million voters participated.
“This does not deserve to be treated as a serious matter or serious audit,” Hidalgo said. “It is an irresponsible political trick. It is a sham. It is a cavalier and dangerous assault on voters and democracy.”
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Precisely who ordered the audits of election results for Harris, Dallas, Collin and Tarrant counties, as well as what they would entail, remains a mystery. The Secretary of State’s Office distributed a news release Thursday evening, though the secretary of state post has been vacant since May and spokesman Sam Taylor did not respond to a request for comment.
Harris County last year was the largest jurisdiction in the United States to use voting machines that did not produce a paper record. The county since has purchased new machines.
County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said she was surprised by the secretary of state’s announcement, noting she had spoken with that office’s staff hours earlier about an unrelated matter. Longoria said no state agency or department has provided her with any information about how the audit of Harris County’s election results will be conducted.
After the 2020 contest, Longoria said her office conducted a partial manual review of mail ballots and electronic records from voting machines. Eleven months later, Longoria said she has turned her attention toward preparing for future elections.
“I’m now being blindsided about an audit that we have no information on and no direction on,” Longoria said. “My job is protect the voters… not just open up the books to whoever has a new conspiracy of the day, and let you run rampant with confidential election records.”
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County Attorney Christian Menefee said the Texas audit “is clearly being done in bad faith” since it was announced just hours after Trump requested it. All three Harris County officials said they will comply with the law and any potential rulings from judges, but would otherwise not take the audit effort seriously.
“The goal of this is to intimidate our election workers and the folks who volunteer in elections, to undermine our confidence in democracy and to pander to … a gentleman who lost an election 11 months ago,” Menefee said. “We’re going to continue to push back where appropriate.”
Commissioners Court is divided over party lines on the audit. The two Democratic commissioners, Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis, said they agreed with Hidalgo’s criticism. Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said despite county elections officials’ assurances that the 2020 contest was conducted securely, he does not know if that is accurate.
“I think there’s enough questions there,” Ramsey said. “Obviously, you need to go back and look at the numbers. Just because there hasn’t been anything (found) at this point, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. That’s why you do an audit.”
He did not elaborate on what those questions were. The other Republican commissioner, Precinct 4’s Jack Cagle, was unavailable for comment Friday.
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Zach Despart has explained and exposed Harris County government for the Chronicle since 2018. He focuses on flood control, equity, county-state relations and corruption. He documented how Texas failed to stop two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and led a team that discovered the death toll from the 2021 blackout crisis was far higher than the state had acknowledged.
He was previously the managing editor of the Houston Press, where he won the Best Feature award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia for his feature on Venezuelan corruption in Houston and Miami. He is a New York native and graduate of the University of Vermont. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].
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