Long-awaited results of a forensic audit of Texas’ 2020 election reveal significant differences in the reliability of elections in big counties controlled by Democrats versus those run by Republicans.
Texas Secretary of State John Scott released the final report on the audit of the 2020 general election on Monday. The audit was conducted by his office’s newly formed Forensic Audit Division to “ensure that all Texas voters can have confidence in the elections systems in our state.”
The two-phase forensic audit was launched in September 2021, while the secretary of state position was vacant. The Texas secretary of state is the state executive officer tasked with overseeing elections, among other duties.
Scott was appointed to the post in October 2021 and immediately turned his focus to completing the 2020 audit and expanding the office’s resources for conducting future election audits.
He released a report on Phase 1 of the audit in December 2021.
Phase 2 took longer than expected to complete, largely due to the troubled Harris County Elections Office delaying access to information and failing to provide requested records.
An executive summary of the 359-page audit report outlines the data evaluated during the comprehensive review of the counties’ election records.
According to the summary, an “audit of this nature has not been undertaken anywhere in the country.”
Four counties were audited: Collin, Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant.
They represent the largest two Democrat-controlled counties and largest two Republican-controlled counties in Texas. Together, they account for one-third of all registered voters in the state.
“Collin County proved to be the model of how to run elections in Texas,” the report said, adding that the Republican-run county’s “records management, record quality, and procedures were unmatched.”
Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet credits his staff, the county’s early voting ballot board, and local poll workers.
The audit report said Republican-run Tarrant County “administers a quality, transparent election.”
The Democrat-run counties didn’t fare as well.
Dallas County “experienced two large problems during the 2020 General Election,” according to the audit report: electronic pollbooks checking in the wrong voters, and the loss of several experienced staff members.
Dallas County election officials also failed to reconcile mail ballot data. Ballot totals from four different sources were inconsistent with each other and “none matched the canvass.”
The November 2020 election was the last one run by Toni Pippins-Poole, whose nine-year tenure as Dallas County’s elections administrator was marred by mistakes and allegations of incompetence and corruption.
Elections Administrator Michael Scarpello, who was hired to replace Pippins-Poole by Dallas County’s Democrat-controlled county government, continued to face e-pollbook problems in the November 2022 election.
Harris County—the largest county in the state with more than 2.5 million registered voters—received the worst 2020 audit report.
Among multiple problems cited by auditors, Harris County had “very serious issues in the handling of electronic media” that resulted in well over 100,000 cast votes stored on electronic “mobile ballot boxes” lacking proper documentation or chain-of-custody records.
Harris County’s chaotic November 2020 election was run by Chris Hollins, a Texas Democrat Party official appointed to the election-management post by the county’s Democrat-controlled county government, despite having no experience running elections.
After that election, Hollins (who is now running for mayor of Houston) was replaced by another Democrat appointee with no election administration experience, Isabel Longoria. She was forced to resign earlier this year after grossly mismanaging the March 2022 primaries.
The primaries were called the “worst election fiasco in Texas history” until Longoria’s successor, Clifford Tatum—yet another Democrat appointee—botched the county’s 2022 general election so badly that the results are being challenged in court.
On top of the legal challenges, Harris County is already scheduled to receive a state audit of its 2022 elections. Harris was one of four counties randomly selected to be audited by the Forensic Audit Division under a new state law passed last year.
Auditors of the 2020 election found that the COVID-19 outbreak “presented the counties with extraordinary challenges,” which likely led to the procedural errors and irregularities observed.
“When the Texas Election Code and local procedures are followed, Texas voters should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections,” Forensic Audit Division Director Chad Ennis concluded from the results of the audit:
Each of the four counties has detailed procedures and detailed forms to document compliance with the code and ensure that only lawful ballots are cast and counted.
When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities. In some cases, however, they did not. As outlined in this Report, in cases where procedures were not followed, discrepancies and irregularities ranging from small to large ensued.
“Texas has some of the strongest and most effective transparency measures in the country when it comes to administering and auditing elections,” Scott said. “The Texas forensic election audit—which is, by far, the largest undertaken in the nation to date—demonstrates how these measures can and should be used to make sure Texas voters can have confidence in the outcome of any given election, as well as which areas counties need to address to restore confidence going forward.”
Scott announced earlier this month that he is stepping down at the end of the year, having accomplished his goals of establishing the Forensic Audit Division and completing the 2020 audit.