The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has informed the county with the highest population that inspectors will be dispatched there to monitor the counting of ballots in the November election.
Chad Ennis, the director of the secretary of state’s forensic audit division, informed Clifford Tatum, the county’s elections administrator, in an letter on Tuesday that a county audit had discovered “serious breaches of proper elections records management” in the county’s handling of mobile ballot boxes in the 2020 general election.
Houston is located in the Democratic-leaning Harris County. The letter was delivered a little more than a week before the state’s early voting period began.
Ennis noted that there are “at least 14 locations where chain-of-custody paperwork is weak at best or missing at worst” in the audit conducted by the secretary of state.
The secretary of state’s office would send “a force of inspectors” to the county to “conduct randomized checks on election records” and “observe the processing and counting of ballots and electronic media,” according to Ennis’s report.
In addition, the Ken Paxton administration of Texas has agreed to send a task force to Harris County that “will be available at all times during the election period in order to immediately respond to any legal issues identified by secretary of state, inspectors, poll watchers, or voters,” according to Ennis.
The Secretary of State’s Office, citing Chapter 34 of the Texas Election Code, said in a statement to NBC News that it dispatches inspectors to numerous counties during state elections, including Harris County.
Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, stated that “our inspectors and trainers will be present to help Harris County officials and ensure the election process is run smoothly and securely in the upcoming November general election, that the mistakes observed in the past are not repeated, and that no eligible voters’ votes are discounted because of administrative errors.”
Taylor dismissed criticism of the action, claiming that any group “lying” by claiming it was “an attempt to sow suspicion or scare voters” did so.
Tatum, the supervisor of elections for Harris County, was contacted by NBC News for comment.
The Texas review was started last year after former President Donald Trump asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to look into the outcomes of the state’s 2020 election, which Trump easily won. A few hours later, the secretary of state’s office declared that reviews had started in Tarrant and Collin counties, the two largest Republican counties, as well as Dallas and Harris counties, the two largest Democratic counties.
The study coincided with related Republican initiatives in a number of other states as Trump sought to skew the outcome of the 2020 election by making unfounded claims of voting fraud.
NBC News’ Summer Concepcion covers politics.