Tarrant County has officially begun its search for a new elections chief, after the current administrator resigned over a clash in values with the county judge.

The Tarrant County Election Commission opened its Tuesday meeting by accepting Heider Garcia’s resignation. Garcia’s resignation letter, which became public last week, cited a meeting with the new county judge, Republican Tim O’Hare, as the reason for his departure. Garcia wrote that he can’t run elections with “respect and zero politics” while working with O’Hare.

O’Hare is now one of the people in charge of finding Garcia’s replacement. He’s the chair of the Election Commission, the five-person board that also includes the county clerk, the county tax assessor-collector, and the chairs of the local Democratic and Republican parties.

The Commission also moved Tuesday to post Garcia’s job online. After the meeting, O’Hare told reporters that he’d like to find someone who understand their role “is to administer fair and secure and honest elections.”

“A lot of people in your line of work don’t like to acknowledge there’s a lot of people that don’t trust the security of our elections,” he said, referring to his office full of journalists. “We want everyone to feel that their vote is going to count, that elections are secure and fair and honest and transparent.”

A photo of a TV screen that has a picture of the Tarrant County Courthouse, an immense red stone building with a clocktower, and the words "Tarrant County Election Commission Meeting, April 25, 2023."
The Tarrant County Election Commission is in charge of picking the county’s elections administrator. The last time the five-member board voted to hire someone was back in 2018, when the members picked Heider Garcia unanimously. (Emily Nava | KERA)

Conspiracy theories about elections have run rampant in recent years. After the 2020 elections, Garcia told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee he endured death threats from people who believed former president Donald Trump was the true winner.

A 2022 survey from the Brennan Center for Justice found that Garcia is not alone. Nationwide, almost one in three elections professionals know someone who left the job due to threats, intimidation and safety concerns.

In February, O’Hare, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and District Attorney Phil Sorrells announced the formation of an Election Integrity Task Force. The task force will focus on prosecuting election crimes, even though such crimes are rare and a state audit praised Tarrant County’s election system for its quality and transparency.

If a potential candidate for elections administrator has a history of election denial, O’Hare would still be open to considering that candidate, he said Tuesday.

“Would I bring someone in who at some time or another questioned whether or not Joe Biden legitimately won? Well, that in and of itself is not an automatic disqualifier,” O’Hare.

Anyone who will replace Garcia will need a majority vote from the five-member Election Commission. Besides O’Hare, that includes County Clerk Mary Louise Nicholson, Tax Assessor-Collector Wendy Burgess, Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Allison Campolo and Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Rick Barnes.

About 30 people attended the Tuesday meeting, where the public was allowed to speak. Most people who took the podium supported Garcia.

Vera Roberts, a Black woman with short gray and white twists, speaks at a podium in a government meeting room.
Vera Roberts took the podium at the Tarrant County Election Commission meeting on Apr. 25, 2023, where commission members accepted the resignation of Elections Administrator Heider Garcia. Garcia’s departure means “Our future as citizens of Tarrant County is at stake,” Roberts said. (Emily Nava | KERA)

Vera Roberts, the election judge liaison for the Tarrant County Democratic Party, said she hadn’t come planning to talk to the Election Commission.

“I was going to sit there, but I could not let his name be tarnished saying that he was a bad administrator,” Roberts said.

Garcia worked every day to make sure Tarrant County citizens could vote with ease, Roberts said.

“No matter what his partisanship is, he never put that in the equation. His only thing was to make sure that Tarrant County was the best county in Texas as far as voting,” she said.

Jackee Cox, a frequent speaker at Tarrant County meetings, came holding a neon green sign that said “GRIEVE OUR LOSS OF HEIDER GARCIA.”

Jackee Cox, an elderly white woman with white hair in an updo, holds a neon green sign that says "GRIEVE OUR LOSS OF HEIDER GARCIA."
Jackee Cox came to the Election Commission meeting on Apr. 25, 2023 to lament the resignation of Elections Administrator Heider Garcia. She asked the commission to do everything in its power to convince him to stay. (Miranda Suarez | KERA)

Garcia gave people faith in the elections process, Cox told the Election Commission.

“We feel that fair elections have been stolen from us here in Tarrant County,” she said.

After the elections administrator job description is posted, the commission will go through resumes, interview candidates and pick a finalist to replace Garcia.

During his tenure, local and statewide officials praised Garcia for his openness, transparency and willingness to work with election skeptics.

Robert Buker told the Election Commission he wasn’t sorry to see Garcia go. Buker didn’t like the way Garcia ran the elections office, he said to KERA after the meeting. He wants someone in charge who will support a switch to paper ballots.

But there was one thing he appreciated about Garcia, he said. He answered questions from the public.

“He was accessible, I’ll give him that,” Buker said.

Editor’s note: The story headline was updated regarding O’Hare’s comments.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Miranda is KERA's Fort Worth reporter. She is always looking for stories of the weird and wonderful — whether it’s following a robot around a grocery store or sampling cheeses at a Wisconsin cheese...