Why Trump wants a bill to audit Texas elections

by | Sep 24, 2021 | 2020 Elections, Politics

Donald Trump recently penned a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott calling on him to audit the results of the 2020 election. The governor quickly obeyed and is now auditing the results in four major counties. 

But the former president (or whoever was plainly ghostwriting for him) also asked the governor to pass House Bill 16, a bill filed in the current special session that creates a process for elections to be regularly audited in the state. 

Under the law, candidates or the county chair of a political party would be able to request for local election officials to investigate an election irregularity. If they’re unsatisfied with the explanation, they can request an audit from the Texas secretary of state. If any election violations are found, local election officials would have to remedy it or face a $500 civil penalty for each violation, or even face action by the state attorney general.

It’s worth noting former Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs testified that the 2020 Texas elections were both “smooth and secure,” and Republicans have never presented any evidence that wasn’t the case.

Additionally under the law, state or county chairs of a political party may request for local officials to review the results of the 2020 general election. If the reviewed results differ from the canvassed results in the 2020 general election, the secretary of state would be able to, “recommended measures to avoid similar differences in future elections,” according to the bill. 

That language in the bill is particularly concerning, said James Slattery, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

“Whenever you count votes, you’ve never likely to get the exact same number twice, just because if you have a million votes you’re likely to maybe get the total a couple of votes in either direction,” Slattery said. “That’s normal.”

A good example is the recent Republican-led audit and recount in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the state’s most populated county home to Phoenix. As it turns out, the audit has found that Trump lost by a wider margin — 360 fewer votes — than reported on election day. 

In the current climate, a recount that is off by even one vote could become fuel for conspiracy theories that aren’t based on reality, Slattery said.

“You can see how this can be weaponized to identify some number of discrepancies in the vote totals that are perfectly normal and innocuous, or are large and are a result of a badly conducted review, but the point is to get to here and to say, alright we had some problems in the election, we need new voter suppression laws,” Slattery said, speculating that at worst, it would provide a reason for lawmakers to pursue a way to overturn elections.

Before Texas began its own audit this week, at least five other states — Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia — also saw partisan election review efforts. 

Coupled with the attack on the Capitol and the failed attempt in Congress to overturn the election results, the ongoing audits as well as HB 16 are a continued effort by the president to shed doubt on the democratic process. 

“The clear intent of all of this is to say that the official results of an election should not definitely determine who holds power in this county,” Slattery said. 

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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