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Texas elections officials targeted amid 2020 fraud claims report threats, intimidation to Congress

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 8/11/2022 By Benjamin Wermund, Washington Bureau
Elvis Van of Magnolia carries a “Stop the Steal” sign before a “Defend Our President” rally at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Conroe. © Jason Fochtman, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Elvis Van of Magnolia carries a “Stop the Steal” sign before a “Defend Our President” rally at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Conroe.

WASHINGTON — Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Waco Republican, said during an oversight hearing with elections officials Thursday that he is concerned about the attacks some have faced.

“I do think there is a lot of meanness and malicious activity there, and I am very concerned about it,” he said.

But Sessions, one of 17 Texas Republicans who objected to certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory, questioned whether some officials have done enough to quell concerns among some voters.

“If someone who was credible brought information to you and you did not respond back at all to credible requests, what conclusion do you think would be drawn by the person asking the question?” Sessions asked.

The officials responded that they spend an “enormous amount of time” investigating complaints and talking to voters.

“I think many people feel they’re ignored,” said Lisa Marra, president of the Election Officials of Arizona. “I think it’s an education opportunity.”

Garcia, the Tarrant County official, provided similar written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remi Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

Democrats in D.C. tried in vain for much of last year to pass legislation responding to the new Texas laws. In October, Republicans blocked a pared-down version of a voting bill that the GOP deemed a “federal takeover” of elections, despite weeks of outreach by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who party leaders had tasked with winning over some Republican senators.

ben.wermund@chron.com

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