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Audits required in 4 major Texas counties

Governor+Greg+Abbott+and+former+President+Donald+Trump+meeting+in+2019.
Photo by via Trump White House Archive

Governor Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump meeting in 2019.

Although the 2020 election came to a close almost a year ago, many Americans are still debating its results. 

In an official press release on Sept. 23, the Texas Secretary of State announced a full forensic audit of the 2020 Presidential Election in Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties. The Secretary of State’s office said the audit will be conducted in two phases and aims to establish voter confidence and address any outstanding issues in county elections. 

“Audits in elections are not particularly unusual,” Texas A&M political science professor Kirby Goidel said. “The weird thing about Texas’ audits is that they decided to have an audit really far after the election, primarily after [former President Donald] Trump suggested they should have an audit and after we changed the voting laws. You wouldn’t want to change the voting laws and then have an audit. You would want to have an audit and then look at the voter administration process.” 
In a public letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Trump requested an election audit be added to the agenda for Texas’ current special legislative session. In addition to the audit, Trump shared his support for House Bill 16, which allows action to be taken to address election irregularities. 
According to the Secretary of State’s press release, the first phase of the audit will include testing voting machine accuracy, cybersecurity assessments and identifying and removing ineligible voters who cast ballots in 2020. Outside of audits, every Texas county is required to complete a partial manual count of electronic voting system ballots within 72 hours of polls closing. 

“The Texas audits that Abbott ordered seem to be asking these four districts to do what they’ve already done in routine verification,” A&M history professor Jonathan Coopersmith said. “Already, you’ve got good procedures, in the state of Texas and every other state, to verify the accuracy of voting.”  

The audit is being conducted in the two largest Democrat and two largest Republican counties. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, both democrats, have expressed their concern with the audits. The Secretary of State’s office said County Judges and County Commissioners are responsible for appointing elections administrators and election officials that will work with the state to obtain all materials necessary to conduct a full, comprehensive forensic audit.

“People are right to wonder about it,” Coopersmith said. “There is a legitimate security concern. On the other hand, doing audits after an election is not really that big of a deal and it probably should be done all the time. But it should be done in a systematic fashion and it should be done with a clear idea of what you’re looking for on the front end.” 

Goidel said he is concerned about the election being called into question, as it may undermine faith and confidence in the electoral process, but at a minimal level. 

“One of the concerns is this seems to be politically motivated,” Goidel said. “On the other hand, most of the audits that have been done in other places, where there was some concern, didn’t turn up anything. Maybe it will strengthen faith depending on what the audit finds.”

Collin County Election Administrator Bruce Sherbet said the audit will not result in any major changes to the election process or its outcome. 

“I’ve done this for decades,” Sherbet said. “There are many, many checks and balances in the election process. It’s a very transparent process. You have the opportunity to be a person on-site when voting [is] going on as a poll watcher. You can work as a judge or a clerk in a polling place. You could observe the ballot boards or the central counting station.”

The second phase of the audit, Comprehensive Election Records Examination, will begin in the spring of 2022, according to the Secretary of State’s Sept. 23 press release.   

“After a thorough examination of the abovementioned records and materials in each

county, irregularities or deviations from election administration procedures that may have affected the accuracy of the electronic voting system ballot count could trigger a full manual recount of ballots in the affected precincts or polling locations, pursuant to the Secretary of State’s authority to ensure the accuracy of the tabulation of electronic voting system results,” the press release reads.

Historically, students have voted in lower numbers than older generations. Students have the opportunity to see the voting process by volunteering to become a voter registrar or working the polls on election day, Sherbet said. 

“If someone has questions or doubts, the only thing I could say is please get involved in the process,” Sherbet said. “Work in a polling place or be an observer. Learn the procedures so that you can see for yourself, this is how the process is done.” 

At the university level, Coopersmith said students of all political ideologies should be urging the student body to vote in local and national elections. Aggies Vote is a non-partisan organization encouraging student involvement in the voting process on campus and in Brazos County. 

“After all, [students] are going to be living [in the] next half-century with the decisions being made today,” Coopersmith said. “By getting discouraged [and] not voting, that means you’re going to graduate into a world in which you had little choice by not voting and shaping what that world is going to be.” 

Goidel said students have the chance to decide the country’s future democracy and its political process. 

“All of it is up to them,” Goidel said. “Each generation has to define democracy and the way that best fits their purposes and their demands. Right now, what we’re seeing is a push back against the democratic institutions and democratic norms. I think the people that care about politics can demand a different type of democracy. That’s hopefully why people care, because fundamentally, our political system reflects the inputs that come into it. If we put garbage in, we get garbage out.”

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