Collin County commissioners are Republican — but precinct chairs still question election integrity
At least 10 people listed as Collin County Republican Party precinct chairs — and others — have raised questions about election integrity in public comments before the all-Republican county commissioners court since July.
Election fraud claims repeatedly have been discredited. But questions about election integrity still come up frequently at the commissioners court meetings in Collin County — and at other public meetings in Texas.
Collin County went for Trump in 2020 and every other Republican on the ballot. The county's election administrator answers to the all-Republican commissioners court. But that hasn’t stopped the questions.
Clint Pruett of McKinney, Joseph Harwell of Plano and Joe Cruz of Princeton all identified themselves as precinct chairs while speaking at the meetings in Collin County. Precinct chairs help promote the party and the election of Republicans to office.
“I recently became a precinct chair and have great concern about the integrity of the vote,” Harwell said at a meeting in July.
“As a precinct chair GOP, I've learned some things that are of concern,” Pruett said.
“As a precinct chair with 198 Collin County GOP [his precinct], that the election, the executive committee rather, passed a resolution in April calling for a return to precinct level voting utilizing hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballots,” Cruz said.
Others didn’t identify themselves as precinct chairs during their comments but are listed on the party’s website as such. Those include Robert Canright of Plano, Debbie Lindstrom of McKinney, Jessica Hulcy of McKinney, Lee Breckenridge-Moore of Fairview, David Kemp of Plano and Dr. Bob Koons of Plano.
Similar scenes are playing out at commissioners’ courts in other Texas counties. The Tarrant County Commissioners Court, for example, held an open forum last April to address election integrity concerns.
Abraham George, the Collin County Republican Party chair, said the precinct chairs spoke as individuals at the meetings, not on the party’s behalf. He also said although there were issues in other parts of the country, there was no election fraud in Collin County in 2020.
“We know we didn’t have any fraud,” George said. “We won every race.”
A drumbeat of misinformation?
Election administrators complain about a steady drumbeat of misinformation. That includes Collin County’s election administrator Bruce Sherbet.
Before he administered elections in Collin County, Sherbet was the elections administrator in Dallas County for 25 years. He said a wave of people started questioning election integrity in 2020 — something he hasn’t seen in his decades-long career.
“I know what the process is, and I know our systems are certified, and I know the election results were correct and accurate,” he said.
Some people in Collin County say the voting machines weren’t certified. Sherbet says that’s simply not true.
“I call upon you as our elected officials to either remove these apparently uncertified machines or have them properly certified,” Cruz said.
Sherbet said the equipment has been certified at the state and federal level. Still, people continue to insist otherwise.
Speakers at the afternoon commissioners court meetings have raised other question about election integrity.
Anna Wylie, who describes herself as a member of an education election integrity group, said at a court meeting that anyone who understands computer code can hack the voting machines.
“With the Internet, there's anyone that knows the foreign language can program any computer from anywhere,” she said.
Sherbet said the voting equipment can’t connect to the Internet.
Dr. Joseph McGlynn, an associate professor of communications studies at the University of North Texas, said it’s hard to change someone’s mind about something they really want to believe.
He said it’s especially challenging if that information is coming from an authority figure they trust, like former president Donald Trump.
“It’s extremely difficult to change someone’s mind about a claim that they want to believe is true and that someone that they trust is saying that it’s true,” McGlynn said.
People like Sherbet can try. But McGlynn says for people to change their minds, it would take Trump — or someone they trust more than Trump — to correct the record.
That’s not happening. The Republican party platform in Texas promotes falsehoods about election fraud in 2020. Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said the Republican Party has also nominated multiple people across the country who support those views.
“When you nominate people who don’t believe the truth, then you’ve got a problem,” Jillson said.
Solving the problems caused by misinformation is challenging — McGlynn said the best solution is transparency. Misinformation, he said, festers when there’s uncertainty. Transparency about how things work leaves less room for doubt.
Take paper ballots. Many of the speakers at commissioners’ court plead for the judge and commissioners to replace the voting machines with hand-counted paper ballots, something they’re claiming is more accurate. Sherbet has refuted that belief.
Wylie said at a commissioners court meeting in August that paper ballots were easier for voters to understand.
“We could watch to make sure the votes were counted properly,” she said. “Then, once machines were introduced, the counting of our votes was translated into a foreign language. We, the people, can no longer verify the vote count.”
Sherbet said relying solely on hand-counted paper ballots isn’t feasible — it would be virtually impossible to handle in larger counties, where hand-counting ballots would take weeks. He also said there’d be more room for human error, something the machines counteract.
Collin County does use paper ballots in addition to the voting machines. Sherbet said it’s a hybrid system. The voter inserts their paper ballot into the voting machine. Voting on the touch screen helps prevent voter errors on the ballot. Then, the machine prints the voter’s marked ballot with the results. After that, it’s processed through the ballot counter. Sherbet said they also hand count a sample of the ballots to double check the machine’s accuracy.
Sherbet wants to engage voters more in the electoral process. He’s encouraging people to get involved on the ground working as poll workers, alternate judges or poll watchers.
His hope is that involving people in the process will demonstrate that elections are safe and secure.
“Things like that do help,” Sherbet said. “I think it helps because you’re trying to do everything you can to build confidence and answer questions and to educate.”
Jillson said he admires Sherbet’s efforts — but he’s not sure how much good it will do.
“If reason could easily win out, it would have done so by now,” he said.
The solution, Jillson said, is that Republicans need to take an electoral hit — he said a couple of hard losses resulting from its more extremist stances will cause the party to pivot its stance on election integrity to regain lost ground.
Jillson worries that if people have extreme distrust of elections, democracy could be at risk.
“If Republicans reject every election that they lose, then our process is in deep trouble,” he said.
One speaker warned commissioners of what she saw as another threat to democracy.
"Our country is being taken over by a foreign government. We must all fight back," Barbara Isaacs said in August. "This is where we have to fight back in Collin County is in this courtroom.
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Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.
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