Texas 2020 Election Audit Finds ‘Very Serious Issues’ in Harris County

Texas 2020 Election Audit Finds ‘Very Serious Issues’ in Harris County
Voters line up outside Vickery Baptist Church waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day in Dallas, Texas on Nov. 3, 2020. (LM Otero/AP Photo)
Jana J. Pruet

Secretary of State John Scott’s office has released the final phase of its 2020 general election audit of Collin, Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant Counties.

The audit released on Monday showed the most serious issues occurred in Harris County, followed by Dallas with two large problems, including “phantom voters.” Tarrant County administered a “quality, transparent election” with minor findings, and Collin County “proved to be the model of how to run elections in Texas.” (pdf)

Overall, Texas voters can have a “very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections” when state election code and local procedures are followed, according to a state election audit report.

Scott ordered the full forensic audit last year amid concerns about voter fraud. To ensure the transparency of the assessment, the 359-page audit represents the two largest Democrat-controlled counties, Dallas and Harris, as well as the two largest Republican-controlled counties, Collin and Tarrant, according to the report.

In Harris County, the problems were severe enough that the Secretary of State’s office notified the county of the audit’s preliminary findings ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, the report said.

Last month, Chad Ennis, Director of the Forensic Audit Division (FAD), sent a letter to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg requesting her assistance in reviewing allegations of criminal activity during the Nov. 8 election. (pdf)
The allegations stem from interviews with election judges from 16 polling places found the county may have committed at least two Texas Election Code violations.

‘Widespread Problems’

On Nov. 14, Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) also called for an investigation into the “widespread problems” that occurred during last month’s elections.
Among the problems reported were missing keys, a shortage of paper ballots in Republican precincts, and staffing issues, according to a news release.

“The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct,” Abbott said.

“Voters in Harris County deserve to know what happened. Integrity in the election process is essential. To achieve that standard, a thorough investigation is warranted.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference in Houston, Texas, on Sept. 13, 2022. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference in Houston, Texas, on Sept. 13, 2022. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Ogg, a Democrat, responded with a letter to the Texas Department of Public Safety requesting the Texas Rangers to assist her office in an investigation into “alleged irregularities with the latest Harris County election that potentially may include criminal conduct.”

2020 Audit

The Secretary of State’s 2020 audit included machines and software, security, voter registration, provisional voting, mail-in voting, chain of custody, records management, and more.

In Harris County, the audit showed “very serious issues in the handling of electronic media.”

At least 14 mobile ballot boxes could not provide a proper chain of custody records for 184,999 ballots. Chain of custody is a chronological documentation practice that records every aspect of cast vote records (CVR), ballots, and other election materials.

“All links in the chain of custody must be documented so voters know who ‘handled their rights,’” the report explains.

The county failed to provide documentation for the creation of 17 mobile ballot boxes accounting for 124,630 cast vote records.

Tally audit logs for more than two dozen early polling places and eight election-day polling locations did not match the electronic records.

A person prepares to cast their ballot at the Metropolitan-Multi Service Center in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 25, 2022, during early primary voting. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
A person prepares to cast their ballot at the Metropolitan-Multi Service Center in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 25, 2022, during early primary voting. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Another issue involved the storage of voting records. The audit counted 534 boxes warehoused but was unable to confirm whether or not this was all of the records.

“Harris County did not have an inventory of their warehoused records for the 2020 General Election,” according to the report. “ … At times, FAD observed the label used on the outside of the boxes inaccurately described the contents.”

‘Phantom Voters’

Dallas County’s two biggest issues involved multiple problems with their electronic poll books and losing experienced staff members.

The county’s electronic equipment created at least 188 “phantom voters.”

It misplaced 318 provisional votes that were discovered in February 2021. Another 21 mail-in ballots were credited to voters, but their sealed, unopened ballots were discovered during the audit.

There was also a discrepancy of 1,156 ballots in the transfer of records.

“The tabulation audit log reflects additional mail ballots which did not track back to those transferred by the [Early Voting Ballot Board],” the report reads. “Dallas County forms show 76,991 left the EVBB but 78,147 were recorded in the canvass.”

Additionally, four data sources for mail ballot statistics were inconsistent, and none matched the canvass.

Tarrant County had minimal issues.

“Tarrant County administers a quality, transparent election,” the report said.

The FAD found that mail ballot naming was inconsistent, which caused some difficulty in tracking ballots, but the “numbers were ultimately verified through other documentation.”

The other issue involved election workers not consistently printing zero tapes before opening the polls.

Collin County provided the most consistent records management, records quality, and its “procedures were unmatched.”

It found one issue where 21 voters who were ineligible to vote by mail received mail-in ballots.

The report also noted that all of the counties had internal inconsistencies, such as multiple sources providing the same data. In some cases, the numbers matched, but in many cases, they didn’t.

Earlier this month, Scott announced his resignation at the end of the year to return to private law practice. Abbott appointed him to serve in October of last year.

Abbott appointed Republican State Senator Jane Nelson, who is retiring from the Senate after 30 years in the Legislature, to replace Scott as Secretary of State.

Jana J. Pruet is an award-winning investigative journalist. She covers news in Texas with a focus on politics, energy, and crime. She has reported for many media outlets over the years, including Reuters, The Dallas Morning News, and TheBlaze, among others. She has a journalism degree from Southern Methodist University. Send your story ideas to: [email protected]
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