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Former Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia picked for same job in Dallas County

Heider Garcia, former Tarrant County Elections Administrator
Chris Connelly
Former Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia is taking on the same job in Dallas County.

Former Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia is taking on the same job in Dallas County and will start work on Dec. 20.

His hire was approved at a Dallas County Election Commission meeting on Wednesday. Dallas County Elections administrator Michael Scarpello, who's held the job since December 2020, recently decided he would retire.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who chairs the Election Commission, said Garcia “has a proven track record of running excellent elections.”

Scarpello said Garcia will inherit “a really good staff” with no vacancies.

After the state Legislature abolished Harris County's elections office, Dallas County now has the biggest elections office in the state, Garcia said — and he feels humbled by the opportunity to lead it.

"Dallas has to be a leader," Garcia told KERA. "Dallas has to have a presence in setting an example of best practices, of problem solving, of innovation."

Garcia left his Tarrant County job in June. He wrote in hisresignation letter that a meeting with Tarrant County Judge Tim O'Hare had revealed their difference in values.

“Judge O’Hare, my formula to ‘administer a quality transparent election’ stands on respect and zero politics; compromising on these values is not an option for me,” Garcia wrote in the letter. “You made it clear in our last meeting that your formula is different, thus, my decision to leave. I wish you the best; Tarrant County deserves that you find success.”

Garcia had been Tarrant County's elections administrator since 2018. O’Hare became county judge in January, and not long after he was elected created an Election Integrity Task Force that was intended to prosecute election crimes — even though Garcia's office had gotten high marks in a Texas Secretary of State audit of the 2020 general election.

After Garcia's resignation, KERA contacted O'Hare for comment.

"As County Judge and Chair of the Tarrant County Election Commission, I want nothing more than quality, transparent elections in Tarrant County Supporting the creation of an Election Integrity Task Force was all about quality, transparent elections. Mr. Garcia voluntarily resigned his position, and I wish him well in his future endeavors," O'Hare said.

On Wednesday, Garcia declined to share details about his meeting with O'Hare, but reiterated what he wrote in his resignation letter.

"I felt that I was presented with things that were like, you don't do that. You don't ask this from election officials, so I'm not your guy. I'm out," Garcia said.

To Garcia, elections offices need to be insulated from politics to be successful.

"I think in any county, if politicians keep politics away from elections offices, it won't matter if it's a blue or red or purple county," he told KERA.

Scarpello said Garcia has a technical background and the "election know-how to navigate the sometimes-political waters of Texas.”

Dallas and Tarrant counties are different political landscapes. Dallas has voted heavily Democratic, and Tarrant is more of a Republican stronghold.

Garcia was the target of death threats and racist attacks after the 2020 elections, as well as far-right conspiracy theories. His battle against election misinformation got him national attention.

In Dallas County, Garcia said he plans to be just as open with critics and elections skeptics as he was in Tarrant County.

"I would never give up on that. I think I was convinced from day one that was the way to go. And I still I'm convinced that is the way to go," he said.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Marina Trahan Martinez is KERA's Dallas County government accountability reporter. She's a veteran journalist who has worked in the Dallas area for many years. Prior to coming to KERA, she was on The Dallas Morning News Watchdog investigative and accountability team with Dave Lieber. She has written for The New York Times since 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. Many of her stories for The Times focused on social justice and law enforcement, including Botham Jean's murder by a Dallas police officer and her subsequent trial, Atatiana Jefferson's shooting death by a Fort Worth police officer, and protests following George Floyd's murder. Marina was part of The News team that a Pulitzer finalist for coverage of the deadly ambush of Dallas police officers in 2016.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.