Abbott defends election audit


Gov. Greg Abbott is defending the state’s decision to audit 2020 election results in four urban counties — but refusing to provide basic information about the review.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, the Republican governor said the audits began months ago. They were publicly announced last week, a few hours after former President Donald Trump, who continues to push falsehoods of a stolen election, requested a review.
 
Since then, neither Abbott nor the Texas Secretary of State’s office has answered questions about what aspect of the election is being audited, how much it will cost or who is doing the work.

Officials from the targeted counties — Dallas, Collin, Harris and Tarrant — say they’re still in the dark.

“They’ve not requested anything and I’ve also had no details about schedule or scope or procedures for it at all at this point,” Collin County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet said on Tuesday.

Texas is the latest state to pursue a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election amid pressure from Trump and his supporters. Unlike other states where Republicans are pushing reviews into results showing Democrat Joe Biden won, Trump carried Texas last November by six percentage points.

“We know regardless of the outcome of these audits, Donald Trump will still have won the state of Texas,” he told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, according to a transcript of the interview. “However, we do have every single year, including in the 2020 elections, allegations of illegal voting in places in the state of Texas.”

Abbott didn’t say whether any allegations came from the four counties being audited. Typically the attorney general’s office investigates election violations, which are rare. Last year, the office resolved 16 prosecutions in a state of more than 15.7 million registered voters, according to the Houston Chronicle.

County officials have defended their elections as fair and accurate, while casting doubt on the audits they say are meant to placate Trump.

On Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee sent a letter to the Secretary of State’s office requesting its internal documents “to get answers since we’ve heard nothing about this audit,” he wrote on Twitter.

Last week, the Secretary of State’s office announced it had already begun the process of conducting a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” of the 2020 election in Texas’ two largest Republican and Democratic counties.

Three of the chosen counties, however, went for Biden last November, while Trump carried Collin County.

The audits come as the Secretary of State’s office is currently without a permanent leader. Ruth Ruggero Hughs left last May after the state Senate refused to confirm her appointment. She oversaw the 2020 election, which one of her top deputies called “smooth and secure.” Abbott has yet to name a replacement.

Election experts said an election audit of four of the state’s most populous counties could be a massive and costly undertaking. In a statement last week, the Secretary of State’s office said it anticipates the Legislature will provide funds for the work, but did not provide a cost estimate.

It’s unclear whether the state has sought outside help, a prospect that is concerning to some election officials. Phoenix’s Maricopa County is spending nearly $3 million to replace voting equipment that was turned over to Cyber Ninjas, the private contractor chosen by Arizona Senate Republicans to carry out an audit of 2020 results. The results, which were released last week, confirmed Biden won the county.

Experts also question use of the term “forensic audit,” as that refers to investigations of suspected wrongdoing and is typically limited to finances.

“Forensic audit is not defined in election statutes anywhere,” said Jennifer Morrell, a partner at The Elections Group. “Forensic has a specific meaning, audit has a specific meaning and they’re being used incorrectly by people that are advocating for forensic audits of an election.”

There are a number of different ways to audit elections. The most common verifies that the vote counting equipment worked properly by reviewing voted ballots by hand to see if they match the electronic results. Those audits, however, are usually done before the election results are certified, not months after the fact, experts said.

Counties have held elections after the 2020 presidential contest, but none of those are facing similar scrutiny, said Chris Davis, Williamson County Elections Administrator and a member of the legislative committee of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

“Nothing has changed for any county in how they’ve conducted elections since November,” he said.

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