Election integrity task force draws criticism, support at Tarrant County commissioners meeting
Three of the county’s top Republican officials, including Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, unveiled the task force earlier this month, even though voter fraud is rare in Tarrant County and nationwide.
Tarrant County’s two Democrats in the commissioners court slammed the Election Integrity Task Force on Tuesday, while 20 community members praised the idea during public comment.
Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, Sheriff Bill Waybourn and District Attorney Phil Sorrells formed the Election Integrity Task Force earlier this month to prioritize prosecution of election crimes, which are rare in Tarrant County and across the country.
A recent state audit praised the quality and transparency of Tarrant County’s elections.
No one from the sheriff’s or the DA’s office will be assigned to the task force full time, but they’ll investigate cases of alleged election crime as they come in, the officials told reporters at a press conference on Feb. 8.
Judge O’Hare’s Democratic colleagues on the Tarrant County Commissioners Court condemned the task force at a packed meeting. Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks, who represents Precinct 1 in southwest Tarrant County, addressed O’Hare, Waybourn and Sorrells.
“I am concerned that we are enshrining in our Tarrant County infrastructure the ability to deny the results of any election that the three of you take exception to,” he said. “That’s a problem for me.”
That’s not what the task force is for, Waybourn said.
“I’m not a conspiracy [theorist],” Waybourn said. “I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the president, and I believe that Joe Biden is the president. I believe all that.”
Instead, the task force exists to enforce election law, Waybourn said, and to give people who have questions and election problems a place to go. He said he received 12 complaints in the last week.
Democratic Commissioner Alisa Simmons represents Precinct 2 in southeast Tarrant County. Twelve complaints don’t “necessitate a task force,” she said.
When Simmons asked Waybourn for several actual voter fraud cases, not complaints, Waybourn answered with a question.
“When you show up to vote, and they go, ‘Mrs. Simmons, you already voted,’ and you say, ‘No I haven’t,’ who do you go to?” Waybourn said.
“I’m going to Heider Garcia’s office,” Simmons said. Garcia is the person in charge of the county’s elections.
The county officials who created the task force have said they never consulted Garcia, who’s been praised by former Texas Secretary of State John Scott, a Republican, as the ideal prototype of an elections administrator. Garcia has also endured racist harassment and death threats due to election denier conspiracy theories.
Simmons has been president of the Arlington NAACP for a decade, she said. In that role, she directs people to Garcia’s office all the time.
“We get complaints as soon as the polls open. I am so accustomed to complaints. There is not a need for an election fraud task force in Tarrant County,” she said.
About 20 members of the public showed up to speak at Commissioners Court, and almost all praised the Election Integrity Task Force. Even more wrote in their support.
“I’m so proud to see people I elected doing the things I want them to do,” said Denise Linn.
Several people shared unfounded theories about elections. One person cast doubt on the result of the state audit that praised Tarrant County’s election process. That audit was carried out by Scott, the former Texas Secretary of State.
Amie Roper of Fort Worth hopes the task force finds more instances of voter fraud, she said.
“There are so many that you’re never gonna hear about, never get reported,” she said, without offering evidence.
Kat Cano, a Democrat on the Tarrant County Early Voting Board, said she’s “dissatisfied” with the Election Integrity Task Force. Cano told commissioners that both parties lost election workers last year because they were afraid of being prosecuted for a simple mistake. To Cano, better recruitment, pay and training for election workers would do a lot more to keep elections safe, not enforcement after the fact.
“If someone tried to sell you an alarm system, and their primary selling point was, ‘We’re gonna investigate it after you get robbed,’ you wouldn’t buy that alarm system,” Cano said.
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