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Texas announces 2020 election audit after Trump lobbies governor

Critics say Texas’ audit continues a trend of Republicans buying into Trump’s conspiratorial claims that fraud cost him the presidential election.

(CN) — In a move Texas Democrats called “pitiful yet predictable” and “pure pandering” to backers of Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced late Thursday it is auditing the election results of the state’s four largest counties.

Trump received 631,221 more votes in Texas than Joe Biden in last year’s election. And an official with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office told state legislators early this year the process was “smooth and secure,” with no evidence it was undermined by fraud.

Nonetheless, Trump wrote an open letter to Governor Greg Abbott early Thursday asking Abbott to support a GOP bill filed early this month in the Legislature’s third special session that would allow candidates, or the county chairs of political parties, to ask county clerks for explanations of any perceived “election irregularities,” and ask the secretary of state to audit ballots.

The legislation also includes a mechanism for county and state political parties to force county clerks to form committees to review the results of the 2020 general election, but only for state and county offices, not the presidential contest.

“Despite my big win in Texas, I hear Texans want an election audit!” Trump wrote to Abbott, a fellow Republican. “You know your fellow Texans have big questions about the November 2020 Election. … Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties. Let’s get to the bottom of the 2020 Presidential Election Scam!”

Hours later, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced it is auditing the election results for four counties.

“Under existing Texas laws, the Secretary of State has the authority to conduct a full and comprehensive forensic audit of any election and has already begun the process in Texas’ two largest Democrat counties and two largest Republican counties — Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin — for the 2020 election,” the agency said. “We anticipate the Legislature will provide funds for this purpose.”

Biden easily defeated Trump in Harris and Dallas counties. But he beat him by less than 2,000 votes in Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth. Trump won Collin County, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, by more than 21,000 votes.

Democrats quickly denounced the audit.

“Let me be the first to congratulate the disgraced former president, Donald Trump, on his apparently becoming the new governor of Texas,” tweeted Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus.

“Pitiful yet predictable that @GregAbbott_TX has capitulated to Trump yet again,” added Turner, who represents the Dallas suburb Grand Prairie.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat who has sparred with Abbott for limiting how counties can respond to the coronavirus pandemic, warned the audit was playing up to supporters of Donald Trump’s debunked election fraud claims who overpowered police and broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to stop the Senate from certifying the election results.

She is the chief elected official of Harris County, which includes Houston, not a court of law judge.

“Donald Trump ordered Gov. Abbott to audit the 2020 Texas election and, like clockwork, TX just initiated an audit of Harris County voters,” she tweeted. “Democracy isn’t a game. These fake audits are an affront to all voters, & pure pandering to the kinds of extremists that stormed our Capitol.”

Critics say Texas’ audit is continuing a trend of GOP state lawmakers buying into Trump’s conspiracy theory, despite state and federal courts dismissing more than 50 lawsuits by Trump and his allies alleging voting irregularities.  

Republican legislators in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have completed or started 2020 election audits.

Democrats are worried the audits could motivate GOP-controlled state legislatures to pass new voting restrictions like the measures passed in Texas and Georgia this year.

Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both Republicans, did not immediately respond early Friday to requests for comment about the state’s audit.

Cruz refused on Jan. 6 to vote to certify the presidential election results and instead called on senators to appoint an electoral commission to do an emergency audit of the votes in six battleground states.

Cornyn declined to join the objectors, whom he said were making unproven allegations of voter fraud.

The Houston Chronicle published an editorial Monday comparing Abbott to Trump’s “cringing lap dog” for complying with the former president’s call for an audit.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office has provided few details about the initiative. No one is currently leading the agency because former Texas Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs resigned in May and Abbott has yet to replace her.  

Follow Cameron Langford on Twitter.

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