County Judge Glen Whitley (R) told The Texan that they’d had many questions and comments regarding election processes in the preceding court meetings. Since he and the commissioners are unable to respond to those during the meeting if the item is not on the official agenda, he decided to set a date for the work session and ask citizens to submit questions in advance.
Heider Garcia, the county’s election administrator, gave an hour-long presentation intended to address the topics covered by the submitted questions. He especially emphasized the levels of security and protection that keep one person from impacting election results.
Dozens of residents attended the meeting and spoke, limited to three minutes each, with some supporting Garcia and praising his work as elections administrator and others raising questions about the process.
Garcia began by addressing absentee voting, clarifying that Tarrant County does not send out any unsolicited mail-in ballots. He also pointed out that the ballot board — made up of members of the local political parties — verifies the ballot signatures on absentee ballots.
He also discussed early voting. Garcia said in the 2020 election, 80 percent of votes cast were during the early voting period and pointed out that early voting in Tarrant County used to be paperless but is no longer. He also wanted to emphasize the security of early voting by saying that the sheriff has the key to early voting ballot boxes, not the elections administrator.
Regarding election day, Garcia explained the different equipment, the chain of custody, and the duplicate drives with election results. He also noted that the elections office posts many election documents, other than ballots, on its website.
“Our elections are completely auditable from top to bottom,” Garcia emphasized. “This system is designed so you don’t have to be a computer engineer to understand it.”
One concern raised by several residents is the dynamic numbering system used by the county, rather than having pre-printed sequential numbers on the ballots.
Members of Citizens for Election Integrity Texas, a grassroots group concerned with the election process, believe that state law requires the sequential numbering of ballots. The Texas Constitution, Article 6, Section 4 provides, “[T]he Legislature shall provide for the numbering of tickets and make such other regulations as may be necessary to detect and punish fraud and preserve the purity of the ballot box.” Texas Election Code Section 52.062 states that “The ballots prepared by each authority responsible for having the official ballot prepared shall be numbered consecutively beginning with the number ‘1.’”
However, Garcia believes that dynamic numbering is not only legal but more secure. If an election worker misplaces the blank paper, he said it is “no biggie” because the ballots aren’t numbered until they are used.
He also said that the dynamic number printing identifies which machine printed it. Further, it is impossible to tie a particular ballot number to a voter to know how they voted. Finally, he said dynamic numbering at the time the paper is used is more fiscally responsible because the unused paper can be stored and used in the next election.
Whitley addressed the issue of a $1.6 million grant received by the county from the Center for Technology and Civic Life, which has Facebook and Google as some of its major funders. He said the grant application was submitted to the county election board for approval, and it was used to buy equipment and pay for poll workers.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member who now works for the Heritage Foundation, called Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s donations for local election grants “a carefully orchestrated attempt to convert official government election offices into get-out-the-vote operations for one political party and to insert political operatives into election offices in order to influence and manipulate the outcome of the election.”
The accuracy of voter rolls was also an issue raised by citizens and briefly addressed by Troy Havard, the county’s assistant elections administrator. He said that voters can’t be removed from the rolls just because they haven’t voted in 10 to 15 years.
According to the Texas Secretary of State’s website, local registrars are to “regularly review the voter registration lists and compare them with information received from other government agencies to ensure that the state is maintaining an accurate list.”
Dan Bates, a lawyer and member of the election integrity group, said they have gathered 80 pages of data for voters registered to vote at vacant lots and abandoned buildings and have submitted it to the district attorney’s office and county commissioners. But he said county officials take “no actual action beyond the tough talk.”
Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), who is currently in a run-off to be the Republican nominee for Tarrant County district attorney, posted on Facebook about attending the forum and how important election integrity is to the county.
Whitley explained that his goal was to “explain the process, show transparency in each step, the high degree of integrity, and how we are using taxpayer dollars.” He said he is very satisfied with the county’s process, which he believes is “very transparent” and “very efficient in the use of taxpayer dollars.”
The outgoing county judge believes there is a “high degree of misinformation out there” about the voting machines and whether they can be manipulated.
However, he pointed out that the Texas Secretary of State’s Office had the county conduct a test by comparing the paper ballots to electronic results in the state comptroller’s race. The county was not told in advance which race would be checked.
He said that the paper ballots and electronic counts were checked in the comptroller’s race for a precinct and also for a particular voting location to verify that they “matched perfectly.”
Bates and the Citizens for Election Integrity Texas have ongoing concerns and would like electronic forensic images of the voting machines. “Our profound hope is to find no manipulation nor any data deleted.”
He isn’t certain of the cost of the images and investigation, but the group has money already pledged to help fund it and believes they could easily raise any necessary funds. The group is advocating that the two municipal elections in Fort Worth last year — the mayoral race and runoff — be inspected.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.