Dallas County

Texas Audit Found "Phantom Voters," but No Widespread Fraud in 2020 General Election

A recently completed audit in Texas uncovered no significant fraud in the 2022 election.
A recently completed audit in Texas uncovered no significant fraud in the 2022 election. Getty Images
The state’s audit of the 2020 general election found no evidence of widespread fraud in Dallas County – no proof of the "big lie" that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump. But problems with the county’s electronic poll books affected 188 voters. Additionally, the county’s administration office saw key turnover as several experienced staff members left.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott released a report on the audit on Monday. "From the beginning of my time as Texas Secretary of State, I made clear that audit process was meant to provide factual, objective information on the 2020 General Election process in Texas, and that's exactly what we have released to the public today," Scott said in a press release.

The state secretary’s Forensic Audit Division conducted the audit, which looked into how elections were run in Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties. Tarrant and Collin are the largest Republican-controlled county governments in the state, while Dallas and Harris are the largest Democratic-controlled county governments.

Chad Ennis, director of the audit division, wrote in his executive summary of the audit that looking at counties across the political spectrum made the investigation more balanced. “This approach ensures that the State of Texas can provide an honest, transparent assessment of county election offices overseen by both political parties,” Ennis wrote. 

"Texas has some of the strongest and most effective transparency measures in the country when it comes to administering and auditing elections." – Texas Secretary of State John Scott

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Issues with Dallas County’s electronic poll books created what the audit called “phantom voters.” A voter would check in, but the electronic poll book would check in someone else.

“[The Forensic Audit Division] verified this affected 188 voters,” the audit said. “[The Forensic Audit Division] was unable to determine if additional voters were affected due to incomplete records.”

The audit also found that the county had misplaced 318 provisional votes. They were found in February 2021 after the election was certified, but only 63 of these would have counted had they been processed correctly. There were also inconsistencies in the county’s mail-in ballot count compared with the election canvass. Records showed that 21 voters got credit for voting by mail but the audit found their ballots were unopened in sealed carrier envelopes. A single person also helped 393 voters complete mail ballot applications, according to the audit.

Nic Solorzano, the communications manager for the Dallas County Elections Department, told the Observer by email that the county was still looking over the results of the audit but did not provide any further comments.

The most serious issues appear to have taken place in Harris County, according to the audit. “These issues were so severe that [the Forensic Audit Division] notified Harris County of our preliminary findings by letter prior to the 2022 General Election,” the audit said.

Mobile ballot boxes with some 184,999 cast vote records did not have proper chain of custody in at least 14 polling locations. The county also wasn’t able to provide documentation for 17 mobile ballot boxes that accounted for 124,630 cast votes. Poll book records for at least 26 early voting locations and eight Election Day polling locations didn’t match the audit logs for those locations. The auditors asked each county to provide a list of early voting or Election Day polling locations with discrepancies of 1 percent or more between the number of voters who checked in and the number of votes cast. Harris was the only county that did not provide this list.

Elections in Tarrant and Collin were run smoothly more or less, according to the audit. The way Tarrant County labeled electronic media that contained mail ballots made tracking ballots difficult, according to the audit. Election workers are supposed to print what are called zero tapes before polls open. These are slips of paper printed by the vote tabulators to make sure no ballots or votes are already stored in its memory. Election workers in Tarrant County weren’t always consistent in printing off zero tapes before polls opened. Other than that, the audit said, “Tarrant County administers a quality, transparent election.”

The election wasn’t run perfectly in Collin County, but the audit said it “proved to be the model of how to run elections in Texas.” The audit found 21 voters in Collin County had received ballots by mail although they weren’t entitled to vote by mail.

"Texas has some of the strongest and most effective transparency measures in the country when it comes to administering and auditing elections,” Scott said. “The Texas forensic election audit – which is, by far, the largest undertaken in the nation to date – demonstrates how these measures can and should be used to make sure Texas voters can have confidence in the outcome of any given election, as well as which areas counties need to address to restore confidence going forward."
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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