Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include information from the Texas Secretary of State’s office on the number of inspectors present at previous Harris County elections.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and city of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Oct. 20 to send federal monitors to oversee the November elections following a recent letter from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
The Texas Secretary of State’s office said in an Oct. 18 letter that it had found “serious breaches” in the county’s management of its election records during the November 2020 general election, and as a result, the office would send inspectors to perform “randomized checks” of election records at the county’s elections headquarters at NRG Arena.
In response, Hidalgo, Turner and County Attorney Christian Menefee wrote to the civil rights division of the Department of Justice to request monitors “to ensure that Harris County residents’ voting rights are protected.”
“These actions appear designed to chill voters’ trust in the election process in Harris County, and to disrupt and intimidate local election workers,” the officials said in their letter.
Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, said in a statement to Community Impact his office has sent election inspectors to Harris County every year. Taylor provided logs with the names of election inspectors and the counties to which they were assigned for eight elections since 2019, including primary runoffs, March and May elections, constitutional amendment elections and the 2020 general election.
In each election, at least one inspector was sent to Harris County; for the 2020 general election, 13 of the 253 election inspectors statewide were assigned to Harris County.
Taylor added that his office has never before seen a request for the Department of Justice to “monitor the monitors.”
“This request is based on a completely false premise and misunderstanding of Texas Election Law, and is being used to spread false information about the actual duties of our election inspectors—dedicated public servants who will be present in Harris County to observe only and to ensure transparency in the election process from beginning to end,” Taylor said.
According to Chapter 34 of the Texas Election Code, the secretary of state must appoint one or more inspectors for an election if 15 or more registered voters submit written requests before the third business prior to the corresponding election; the requests are not available to the public until the day after Election Day.
The state’s and county’s letters come just before the start of early voting on Oct. 24 and less than three weeks before Election Day on Nov. 8.