Republican leaders announce election integrity task force for Tarrant County

Three Republican leaders in Tarrant County announced an "election integrity task force."

They hope it will improve confidence in elections, despite the fact that a recent audit praised elections in the Republican-majority county.

One Democrat elected official said this is just about appeasing election deniers.

Officials stressed that the main goal of this task force is to create a centralized place for people to report any election issues.

"We want to either prove that there are faults in our elections or prove that there aren’t," said. Tarrant County District Attorney Phil Sorrells.

Newly elected Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, longtime Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and newly elected Sorrells stood together Wednesday, as the three Republican officials announced the creation of an "election integrity task force."

"We take the prospect of election fraud or anything to do with shenanigans involving elections, very seriously in this county," Waybourn said.

"I think every one of us here should all be in favor of fair, secure, honest elections, and if this goes toward that, I think that’s great," O’Hare said.

The officials said the task force will be made up of members of the DA’s office and sheriff’s office, but no one will be assigned to the task force full-time.

And the leaders claim little to no additional budget money will be allocated for its work.

"I can tell you that people all across this county have concerns about our elections in Tarrant County and in the country, so I think we owe it to our citizens to make sure that they know their vote counts and that the elections are secure and are fair," O’Hare said.

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A recent Texas Secretary of State audit found that "Tarrant County administers a quality, transparent election."

With recently-departed Secretary of State John Scott telling the Texas Tribune in November: "If you were building a prototype for an election administrator, you would just copy Heider Garcia."

Garcia is the elections administrator for Tarrant County.

Officials said his office isn’t part of the task force.

"The task force is made up of investigators and deputies, so he is...I fully expect him to cooperate with it, but he’s not part of the task force, per se," O’Hare added.

Despite the lack of evidence that election fraud is a problem in Tarrant County, the move is likely to appease Republican voters who selected candidates who made voting a major issue in campaigning..   

"It is an important symbolic response to something that I'm sure they were hearing from some of the constituency bases during the campaign," SMU political science professor Matthew Wilson said.

Newly elected Democrat Tarrant County Commissioner Alisa Simmons called Wednesday’s announcement "performative."

She went on to say: "It is inappropriate to put three Republican politicians in positions as overseers on something like this, particularly one who is on the ballot next election."

"It sounds like this is largely, at this stage, more kind of symbolic and proactive rather than a large-scale effort that's going to consume a lot of county resources," Wilson added.

The sheriff said they felt a court ruling last year that limited some of the attorney general’s authority in investigating election cases gave more reason to step up this task force. That ruling requires local prosecutors to grant the AG permission to pursue those types of cases.

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