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Texas audit of 2020 election finds 188 ‘phantom voters’ in Dallas County

AUSTIN — A state audit of the 2020 presidential election in Texas found data inconsistencies and “large problems” with Dallas County’s election — but turned up no proof of widespread fraud.

The Texas secretary of state’s office released the final report from a sprawling audit of the 2020 election Monday, publishing its findings for the four counties selected for the probe: Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant.

The audit also found major issues with Harris County, few issues with Tarrant County and indicated that Collin County should be held up as the standard for how to conduct an election in Texas.

The audit found that Dallas County experienced multiple problems with electronic poll books that created “phantom voters.” According to the audit, at some voting locations, when a voter checked in, the electronic pollbook checked in a different voter. The secretary of state’s office said this affected 188 voters, but was unable to verify if that was the extent of the problem due to incomplete records.

Dallas County elections administrator Michael Scarpello said in an email his office is reviewing the 360-page audit and would have a comment later this week.

Scarpello was hired to run Dallas’ elections office one month after the 2020 presidential election. His predecessor, former Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Secretary of State John Scott said in a statement that Texas’ elections law and transparency measures are among the strongest in the nation and that the audit demonstrates that Texans should have confidence in the process “as well as which areas counties need to address to restore confidence going forward.”

Scott is stepping down from the office at the end of the year. Retiring Flower Mound Republican Sen. Jane Nelson will take over as the state’s top election official next year.

The head of the secretary of state’s forensic audit division said Texans should have a “very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections,” and the four counties investigated had detailed procedures in place to ensure only lawful votes were counted.

“In most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities,” wrote Chad Ennis, director of the forensic audit division. “In some cases, however, they did not. As outlined in this Report, in cases where procedures were not followed, discrepancies and irregularities ranging from small to large ensued.”

Ennis found two “large problems” with Dallas County’s administration of the 2020 election.

The election administration office saw turnover among its most experienced staff members and the phenomenon of “phantom voters” that affected 188 voters, according to the audit.

The issue occurred during early voting at Carrollton Senior Center and Irving Arts Center and was tracked by comparing written logs of daily voters to electronic records. The electronic records indicated additional individual voters who had not voted that day, according to the written logs.

It was enough of a problem that some locations, including the Irving Arts Center, had a form called the “Phantom Voter List” in the locations’ hard records of the 2020 election. Only the Irving Arts Center had a Phantom Voter List form filled out, according to the audit.

Other issues that the audit found in Dallas County included:

  • The county misplaced 318 provisional ballots not discovered until after the election had been certified. Sixty-three of those ballots should have been counted.
  • Auditors found 21 unopened mail-in ballots from voters who had been marked as counted in election logs.
  • The number of total mail-in ballots accepted was inconsistent across four data sources.
  • An additional 82-ballot discrepancy between the final count of provisional ballots and the number of provisional ballots marked as “accepted.”

The audit also found issues with Harris County, where Houston is located. The state’s largest elections administration office was unable to provide complete chain of custody records for votes from 14 locations where votes were cast in the 2020 presidential election. That led to incomplete records for 185,000 votes.

Meanwhile, few issues were discovered in Tarrant County, and Collin County received top marks from the secretary of state’s office.

“Collin County proved to be the model of how to run elections in Texas,” Ennis wrote.

But no county proved to be perfect. Data inconsistencies were found in all four counties, Ennis wrote.

The 2020 election audit arose after former president Donald Trump called for a statewide audit of Texas’ presidential election, despite winning the state by 5.6 percentage points.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered an audit almost immediately, picking the top two most populated Republican- and Democratic-led counties in the state. That meant three North Texas counties ended up in the probe.

Abbott and other statewide leaders have since shifted $4 million in tax money to fund additional election audits outlined in a sweeping 2021 election Senate Bill 1. In July, the secretary of state’s office picked Cameron, Guadalupe, Eastland and Harris counties for the next round of election audits.

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