Last week, the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) released a progress report on what is to be a full forensic audit of the November 2020 elections in the state’s two largest Democrat and two largest Republican counties — Dallas, Harris, Collin, and Tarrant.
As part of the audit, investigators sought to identify registered voters who may be ineligible due to death, felony conviction, or non-citizenship across the state and in the targeted counties. The review also worked to identify and remove duplicative registrations.
By comparing voter registration lists with other records, the state was able to cancel nearly 200,000 registrations for deceased voters but forwarded another 23,928 names of the potentially deceased for further investigation by the four counties.
Additionally, the SOS found that voter registrations for 1,628 potential felons had been identified and canceled across the state but noted that the agency has limited visibility into notices provided to county voter registrars from the courts. Among the four counties analyzed, there are 328 potential felon voter registrations under review.
By comparing voter registration information with citizenship data from the Department of Public Safety, SOS also found 11,737 potential non-citizens on statewide voter rolls and referred the information to county registrars for review. Of those, 2,327 records have been removed.
Of the four counties audited, Dallas and Harris counties had the highest numbers of potential non-citizens registered but did not provide status updates for inclusion in the report. SOS says that while nearly 1,200 of these have been removed in Dallas County, Harris County has not yet canceled any of the 3,063 non-citizen registrations. Collin county, with 327 potential non-citizen registrations, has not reported any cancellations.
The SOS report states that staff will work to verify what steps Harris County has taken to verify these registrations.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) who formerly served as the Harris County voter registrar said the situation is unacceptable.
“It’s a bedrock issue that only citizens be allowed to vote in any election,” Bettencourt told The Texan. “The citizenship checks have to be done, if not, it’s a strike against the integrity of the voter roll and whether you can trust the election.”
County registrars typically send notices by mail to request proof of citizenship, but voters have 30 days to respond. According to federal election code, registrars may not remove these voters for non-response within 90 days of a federal election. Consequently, they will remain on the county’s voter rolls at least until after the 2022 primary set for March 1 and primary runoff elections set for May 24.
“The Harris County Elections Administration is in compliance with state law and is actively investigating the citizenship status of those placed on the list provided by the Secretary of State’s office,” Harris County elections said in an official statement provided to The Texan.
“We are doing our due diligence to cross reference citizenship status in our database and have distributed letters accordingly.”
In addition to analysis of non-eligible voter registrations, the SOS report notes that there were only a few discrepancies discovered in the manual recounts required in one percent of elections precincts in each county, but also noted that since Harris County did not use equipment with paper ballots in 2020, a hand count was not possible.
The SOS report carefully notes that not all ineligible registrations are related to actual votes, but reports that it is reviewing 236 potentially deceased voters who seem to have voted in the November 2020 election, and another 509 who may have voted in more than one state or jurisdiction.
The SOS will launch phase two of the audit this spring which will include closer examination and inspection of elections procedures and materials, but Harris County leaders have vowed to oppose any investigation of its elections processes. Last year, county Judge Lina Hidalgo called election audits a “political trick,” and commissioners voted 3 to 2 along party lines to instruct the county attorney to “do everything possible to contest” the audit.
While resisting audit attempts, Harris County’s elections administrator Isabel Longoria has also asked a federal judge to issue an injunction against state laws that prohibit the sending of unsolicited mail ballot applications to registered voters. If she succeeds, Longoria plans to send the applications to county voters in time for the 2022 primary elections.
While SOS says they are still attempting to verify the number of ineligible voters who voted in the 2020 elections, the report states they will refer all illegal votes cast to the Texas attorney general.
While violations of election law have previously been investigated and prosecuted by the state’s attorney general, a recent ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals has undermined the authority of the state’s top law enforcement officer to prosecute election fraud. Instead, the court ruled that only local district and county attorneys can prosecute such cases.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is expected to file a motion for a rehearing of the decision by a January 7 deadline, but under the current ruling there may be little the state can do to prosecute alleged violations of election law.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.