The eyes of the nation were turned to Maricopa County on September 24. Many people had waited many months to hear the findings of the Cyber Ninjas’ forensic audit. There are some, however, that do not seem to understand what a “forensic audit” really is, how they are conducted, or why they are important. This is apparent in the state of Texas.
The day before the audit results, September 23, President Donald Trump sent Texas Governor Gregg Abbott an open letter, suggesting the state’s upcoming third special session of the legislature may be the last opportunity for Texans to initiate a forensic audit of certain counties in the state before the 2022 midterm elections, and urged Abbott to support the proposed audit in House Bill 16.
Texas’ legislature is unlike many others in the Union. A 180-day session is called only once every two years, with special sessions requested by the governor in certain circumstances. Many may remember that the first special session called by Abbott earlier this year was sabotaged by state democrats fleeing the voting floor for Washington, D.C., in an attempt to disrupt the passage of election integrity laws.
Federal law (52 USC 20701) requires that all states must keep election materials for 22 months after an election. In the case of the November 2020 elections, states can dispose of evidence after September 2023. While another 180-day session will be called in Texas before then, the midterms will have already passed, and another two years of state business will certainly override further election integrity actions.
Trump’s letter to Abbott is worrying for Texas constituents. Trump endorsed Abbott’s impending 2022 reelection campaign earlier this year, yet Abbott has not been embracing Trump’s America First policies. Rumblings among conservatives in the state about Abbott’s handling of the border crisis, of Covid-19 restrictions, and a slew of other issues are growing louder as serious primary contenders, such as Allen West and Don Huffines, emerge to fill an ever-widening gap between Abbott and his potential voters.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues for conservative voters—especially those who typically vote in primaries—is election integrity. In the second week of July, rumors swirled that Abbott would publicly support Republican Representative Steve Toth’s House Bill 241, which called for a forensic audit of all Texas counties with a population of over 415,000 residents. Toth’s bill would have conducted a forensic audit in the 13 largest counties in the state, encompassing all of Texas’ metropolitan areas. House Bill 241 expired at the end of the first session without having left the committee. During the second special session in August, Toth’s bill was filed again as House Bill 26, and the rumors of Abbott’s support grew. While Abbott gave assurances to those in the audit movement behind the scenes, Abbott’s endorsement of House Bill 26 never came, and it suffered the same fate as its predecessor.
In light of Abbott’s all-cattle-no-hat attitude toward forensic audits, Trump’s letter is all the more impactful for Texas voters. If President Trump had to publish his letter to Abbott openly, even after giving Abbott his endorsement, savvy voters know something is wrong. Trump is applying pressure to Abbott via Texas conservatives in order to get him to act.
The same day Trump published his letter, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced a forensic audit of four counties. Many audit supporters were glad to hear that forward motion had finally been initiated – that is, until they read the breakdown of the proposed audit.
The supposed audit is to be split into two phases: Phase I will examine information required by various state laws to have been gathered within 72 hours of polls closing on November 3, 2020; Phase II will examine various certificates, logs, declarations, and receipts, including those for early voting, and, if deemed necessary, will result in a hand recount of ballots.
Allow a seventh-generation Texan to explain the local perspective on the Secretary of State’s proposed audit.
Phase I consists of utilizing information the state has already collected. That is not an audit, that is a review of existing information. Of particular interest about Phase I is the inclusion of the Election Security Assessment that all 254 Texas counties are required to perform. The assessment focuses on cybersecurity, an important aspect of digitized voting. Yet “cybersecurity” is not defined in the code (Title 16, Sec. 279.001). While this section could arguably settle doubts about the security of the voting machines, it would seemingly not encompass potential mass adjudications of digital ballots or the counting of the same ballot multiple times. In other words, without ensuring that the information tabulated by the “secured” machines is accurate, cybersecurity does not cover all areas of potential fraud.
Here’s an example: I graduated with a master’s degree in history, specializing in American history. I am a trained historian. Suppose I go to Wikipedia and read an article about 15th century England. I have no training in that area, and I wouldn’t know if I was being lied to about the information I was reading. It would take someone with knowledge of 15th century England to identify the incorrect information, and contact Wikipedia with the correct information. Until then, I read incorrect information as fact. It’s the same thing with the supposed Phase I. By examining information that already exists and assuming that the voting information collected immediately after the election is accurate – even if reviewed by intelligent individuals who have worked elections before – we achieve nothing. We need people with forensic training to assess the information for its accuracy.
Frankly, the same can be said for Phase II, which is seemingly only going to be taking a cursory look at whether machines still have logs on them, or whether ballot boxes were received for storage. A forensic audit would be doing with Texans’ ballots what Cyber Ninjas did with Arizonans’ ballots: gathering forensic digital data from voting machines for examination by cyber experts; and photographing, cataloging, and examining physical ballots while maintaining a chain of custody. How are Texans supposed to trust that ballots weren’t incorrectly adjudicated, weren’t improperly reentered into count totals, etc., without a true forensic examination?
Here’s another example for Phase II. Every time I vote, I look at my printed ballot before sending it into the tally machine. I double check that my selections are printed properly on the ballot. While it appears to my physical eye that my ballot is correct, I have no ability whatsoever to check the barcode—the actual vote itself—for accuracy against my selection. A forensic audit would tell me whether my selections were counted correctly or not.
In other words, the proposed phases are not a forensic audit.
Another interesting aspect of Phase II is that, if something suspicious is somehow found during either phase, a physical hand recount will be undertaken. However, a recount is different from an audit, and any attempt to disguise a recount as an audit is disingenuous. Suppose I tell a friend I will give him $15. I hand that friend eight $1 bills, five slips of Monopoly money, and two IOUs. How much money does that friend actually have? $8, five slips of monopoly money, and two IOUs. But if that friend counts the paper in his hand, he’d have fifteen slips of paper. Recounting potentially fraudulent ballots will tell us nothing. It will accomplish nothing. It amounts to nothing.
This supposed “audit” is yet another instance in a long list of disappointments from Abbott. All Texas voters hold him accountable for what is happening, or not, with the 2020 election audit. Seth Keshel, a former U.S. intelligence officer for the Army, is an audit movement insider who has applied his military training to researching potential fraud in every state, and publishing his findings. He told his followers on Telegram in August that Abbott would endorse an audit during the second special session, although, when the time came Abbott never did. I know, I waited for his announcement after I was told it would be coming. Don’t think the voters didn’t notice Abbott’s absence on that issue.
The governor gave Texans empty promises and assurances on election integrity. Abbott is treating Texans like Georgians by giving us a similar-style “audit.” The proposed Texas audit will be looking at the partial manual count of electronic ballots collected immediately after the election, leading to a possible hand recount. Similarly, the Georgia audit undertaken in November 2020 included only a percentage of statewide ballots, and a hand recount. Recounting ballots does not solidify how many of those ballots are legitimate legal votes, while only recounting a percentage of statewide ballots does not reveal the scope of potential fraud.
If I were able to give President Trump a piece of advice, it would be to rescind his endorsement of Abbott. The governor is not the strong voice the state needs on this issue, but he is still governor. It is his job to advocate for Texas, and many believe he simply is not doing that job.
Voters are expecting Abbott to fight for a true forensic audit, much like the standard set by Maricopa County. Time will tell whether or not election integrity will be the deciding factor in Abbott’s reelection. Though it appears that he won some good graces with conservatives over issues like vaccine mandates and critical race theory, many Texans argue that he hasn’t done enough. Abbott has failed to take the opportunity to make good on his promises to support election integrity twice. Whether he will support the third, and likely final, opportunity is still up in the air. His decision in either direction could end up being a deciding factor for many primary voters choosing between a well-qualified field of challengers, or an endorsement of Abbott.
Just remember: if those in the state of Texas—a consistently red state for several decades—are having these types of issues and opinions about their “conservative” leadership, then how many other Republican leaders across the country are generating skepticism amongst their constituents? If your state or county is considering a forensic audit of the 2020 election results, be sure to diligently look at their methodology, and ensure that you will be getting a true forensic audit.
Author’s note: this article was adapted from a letter sent by the author to Greg Abbott and the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, Elections Division.