Texas Secretary of State’s office to monitor Harris County’s Nov. 8 election following scrutiny of 2020 election

Texas Secretary of State’s office to monitor Harris County’s Nov. 8 election following scrutiny of 2020 election

In its ongoing audit of Harris County’s 2020 elections, the Texas Secretary of State’s office said it had found “serious breaches” in the management of elections records in a letter dated Oct. 18.

Chad Ennis, director of the forensic audit division of the Texas Secretary of State’s office, wrote in the letter that at least 14 polling locations—including NRG Arena, Trini Mendenhall Community Center and Houston Community College’s West Loop Campus—did not have a proper chain-of-custody for their mobile ballot boxes, which store the records of votes cast at a location.

Ennis said his division had also found discrepancies between the number of expected versus actual votes cast at these locations, citing an excess of 401 votes at the Humble Civic Center as one such example.

“We are continuing to investigate this issue, but we wanted to bring this to your attention to ensure reconciliations are done on a daily basis, or at a minimum at the end of early voting, to ensure this does not occur in the November 2022 election,” Ennis said.

In addition, Ennis said his office will send inspectors to observe the central count at the county’s elections headquarters at NRG Arena during the upcoming Nov. 8 election to perform “randomized checks” on election records. Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, said in a statement to Community Impact that his office sends inspectors to Harris County and many other counties in every election.

“It is not unusual for our office to receive requests for election inspectors in every single election,” Taylor said. “We dispatch them when requested, or if our office determines inspectors are needed.”

Harris County’s 2020 elections have been under audit by the state since September 2021. In a statement, County Judge Lina Hidalgo questioned the timing of the letter.

“[The letter] was sent just days before the start of early voting, potentially in an attempt to sabotage county efforts by sowing doubt in the elections process, or equally as bad, by opening the door to possible inappropriate state interference in Harris County’s elections,” Hidalgo said.

The county overhauled the voting machines and systems cited in the letter for the elections back in May 2021 and no longer uses mobile ballot boxes.

Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum confirmed in a statement to Community Impact his office had received the letter on Oct. 18 and that he would review the letter in conjunction with the county attorney.

“We’re five days away from the start of early voting for the Nov. 8 election, and we are focused foremost on ensuring this election runs smoothly,” Tatum said.

Ennis said the county has five days to provide a written response verifying it will take action to ensure the issues identified in the letter do not occur in the upcoming election.

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