Emails: Texas' Election Audit Caught Collin and Tarrant County Officials Flat-Footed

One of several anti-Trump billboards that have popped up in Dallas in recent weeks.
One of several anti-Trump billboards that have popped up in Dallas in recent weeks. Michael Murney
Back in September, Texas state officials announced that they had “already begun” what was dubbed a “full forensic audit” into the November 2020 presidential elections that saw Joe Biden defeat former President Donald Trump.

Now, an investigation by the watchdog American Oversight has brought back communication records and documents that show election officials in Collin and Tarrant counties were caught on their heels when the audit was announced, and that they apparently had no idea what the process meant.

In one of the emails American Oversight obtained, Collin County Election Administrator Bruce Sherbet informed employees that the audit would kick off in November.

(Does the timing feel a bit funny to you? Well: “Governor Abbott, we need a ‘Forensic Audit of the 2020 Election,’” Trump wrote in an open letter to Abbott. “Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties.” A little more than eight hours later, boom: an audit is born.)

Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram had informed Sherbet of the upcoming probe, despite having previously told the Collin County elections administrator that the vote had been both “smooth and secure.”

On Sept. 24, Collin County Commissioner Darrell Hale wrote back to Sherbet and Collin County Administrator Bill Bilyeu. "What is the story?" he asked. "What’s going on?"

"Just heard about it last night," Sherbet replied. "Not sure of any details."

Later, Hale confessed to an inquisitive constituent by email, "We are curious on the details ourselves."

Trump brought home 51% of the votes in Collin County, while Biden took 46%, nearly the same margin by which the former Republican president won Texas as a whole. Not only has there been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton has only closed a whopping total of 16 minor fraud cases, all of which were investigated in Harris County.

Biden narrowly bested Trump in Tarrant County, where voters hadn’t gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.

After the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced the audit, Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia urged election officials not to comment publicly until they figured out what exactly was going on and knew “what they need from us,” the email communications American Oversight obtained show. Garcia urged the officials to forward any media inquiries to him.

"Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties." - Donald Trump, currently not president

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But the lack of clarity about what such an audit actually means and what it involves hasn’t stopped Texas Republicans from finding a way to spend Texans’ money on the process. (By the time it would be said and done, one economic analysis firm predicts a statewide audit would cost up to some $250 million in taxpayer bucks.)

For now, the audit focuses on Dallas, Harris, Collin and Tarrant counties, and in November, Abbott and leading GOP legislators have already moved $4 million from the state prison coffers to help bankroll the probe. The funds will go toward hiring, training and sending out election auditors to — again — doublecheck the results of an election Republicans handily won.

Even Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, a Republican, has blasted the audit as a waste of time and resources. “The conspiracy theorists who want to come up with all these ways or reasons why this election wasn’t right — they might very well find something else,” he told the Texas Tribune last month. “It’s time to move on.”

After Trump got voted out, Attorney General Paxton caught flak for spending taxpayer money on lawsuits asking the Supreme Court to throw out results in four battleground states that picked Biden over Trump: Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. "There is no reason not to do an audit," Paxton said earlier this year. "There is no reason not to know the truth of every election."

Last month, Abbott defended the audit while appearing on Fox News. "Why do we audit everything in this world, but people raise their hands in concern when we audit elections, which is fundamental to our democracy?" the governor said.

Meanwhile, here at the Observer, no one has thought to "raise their hands in concern" over auditing an election in a state everyone agrees Republicans won. Instead, we're sitting around scratching our heads, entirely clueless as to how Texas produced so many U.S. Capitol rioters last January. 
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.