Members of Williamson County’s Republican Party are accusing the party’s chairman of failing to obtain required approval before contracting with the county elections office to run the March 2024 GOP primary, bypassing party rules and disregarding members’ requests to make primary election voting more secure.
Locally elected precinct chairs make up each county party’s executive committee or CEC, which is tasked with conducting party business.
The elected county chairman is supposed to facilitate CEC meetings and carry out directives approved by a majority of members.
Last fall, a group of Williamson County GOP precinct chairs concerned about election security asked Chairman Steve Armbruster to let the CEC consider amending the party’s primary election contract. They wanted to include a manual sign-in along with the electronic voter check-in process, a more robust chain of custody for ballots, and pre-printed sequentially numbered ballots.
Armbruster—who is not running for re-election, so will be replaced in the March primary—refused to review the proposed changes.
Instead, he signed a contract with the Williamson County Elections Department to administer the party’s March 5 primary election without the review or approval of CEC members.
Following party rules, a group of precinct chairs called for a special CEC meeting. Members met in December, approved an amended version of the primary election contract, and directed Armbruster to update the CEC by December 31.
Once the deadline passed, Armbruster told the CEC it was too late to change the contract.
A CEC member then called another special meeting in January.
John Gordon, who chaired the meeting in Armbruster’s absence, said the number of attendees “far exceeded” a quorum.
After discussing the various aspects of the primary election process, Gordon said the precinct chairs voted unanimously to declare the existing contract signed by Armbruster null and void—since the CEC did not review or vote to approve it—and to approve a revised contract.
Marcia Watson, a precinct chair and head of the Williamson County chapter of Citizens Defending Freedom, told Texas Scorecard it is now up to Armbruster to renegotiate and sign the amended contract with the county elections office, or else risk litigation for operating the primary under a void contract.
“The CEC has done their part to ensure our WilCo elections are conducted securely,” she said.
Both sides have now hired attorneys, and Watson said the CEC’s counsel is preparing to file an emergency request for an injunction that would require county elections officials to follow the CEC-approved contract.
Watson also said that county commissioners can end the litigation by agreeing to the amended contract.
Several precinct chairs spoke about the issue at the Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting on January 23.
Precinct chair Cathy Jaster told commissioners that in the past, primary election contracts were discussed by the CEC and voted on.
“But not this year,” she said.
“This court knows election laws have not been followed, citizens’ concerns have not been addressed despite evidence presented that many voters did not receive the correct ballot in 2020, and that info was not made public,” Jaster added. “Members of this board and other elected officials who have ignored our request to further secure elections are still wanting our votes and our support.”
According to Watson, Armbruster and former Williamson County Election Administrator Chris Davis are subjects of an investigation into the November 2020 election being conducted by the Williamson County district attorney and the Texas Attorney General’s office.
Davis resigned last August rather than face termination. No reason was given for his resignation, and he has since been hired to oversee voter registration in Travis County.
Precinct chair Terry Sol told commissioners the lack of transparency in election administration has led “election integrity activists to doubt the trustworthiness of our elections.”
“This failure to take care of checks and balances only breeds mistrust,” she said. “We can take care of all of that if we just have some communication and transparency.”
Their mistrust now extends to the current county GOP leadership.
“What is happening in Williamson County is the culmination of a power struggle between those who rely on the traditional ways of doing business—in which precinct chairs have abdicated many of their duties to the Chair—and those who believe that their input into elections and other important party tasks is not only valuable, but required by law,” said Michelle Evans, who is running for county party chair.
Early voting in the March 5 primary starts on February 20.