Posted inLocal Government

Tarrant County’s elected officials want to be the enforcers of election integrity

Four months after winning elected seats as county judge and district attorney, Tim O’Hare and Phil Sorrells joined Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn in announcing they’ll investigate issues of election integrity.

O’Hare and Sorrells said they don’t have concerns about the results of the election that ultimately placed them in office — but they want to take concerns of election fraud seriously. This comes after a public election integrity test, led by Tarrant County elections administrator Heider Garcia, showed the county system was working as intended, and a state forensic audit failed to find examples of widespread voter fraud.

When The Report asked about potential appearances of impropriety with three elected Republican officials leading the Election Integrity Task Force to monitor elections, Waybourn acknowledged the optics but said there’s nothing to worry about.

“The reason we’re setting up the process now is to avoid that (impropriety),” he said. “We’re both in this, we’re not on the ballot at the same time, and we can balance each other out … We’re going to do the right thing every time and this is not a Democrat or Republican thing. It is making sure all the good citizens are served well in Tarrant County.”

This is the first time local elected officials in Tarrant County will take control of both investigations and prosecutions of alleged election fraud; previously, those cases were handled by the state attorney general’s office, which could take on election fraud cases without the consent of local prosecutors.

That changed after a 2021 ruling, where the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the attorney general couldn’t prosecute election fraud cases unilaterally. O’Hare, Sorrells and Waybourn have branded the joint effort between their offices as a way to fill gaps left by that decision. The task force will consist of existing personnel in the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices, who will make investigating voter fraud a priority alongside crimes against children and other assaults.

“When I said this would be a priority, I meant it would just be a higher priority than probably the thefts and burglaries, the crimes against property,” Waybourn said.” We’re going to pursue these as quickly as possible.”

Tarrant County has been held up on the statewide level as an example of a well-run, secure elections system. An audit of the 2020 general election, ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott, legitimized elections in Tarrant County. The small amount of voter fraud revealed by the audit would not have affected the results of the election, auditors said.

Despite the state’s findings, O’Hare and Sorrells said they have both heard from constituents about cases where election integrity was called into question. They did not have specific numbers of prosecuted fraud cases in the 2020 or 2022 elections, but Sorrells referenced four “pending” cases in county court. The officials declined to give further information about those cases, citing open investigations.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, left, and Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Phil Sorrells leave a press conference about an upcoming election integrity task force on Feb. 8 at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, 200 Taylor St. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“There are quite a few people that have some concerns and we want to prove them either right or wrong,” Sorrells said. He did not provide the number of people that have contacted his office with concerns.

Mark Jones, a professor in the department of political science at Rice University, previously told The Report that election integrity initiatives are particularly popular among the Republican base, making task forces like Tarrant County’s a savvy political move.

Residents with questions or tips about election fraud can contact the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office at 817-884-1213.

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