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How will Tarrant County law enforcement leaders ensure election integrity?

How will Tarrant County law enforcement leaders ensure election integrity?
How will Tarrant County law enforcement leaders ensure election integrity? 03:31

NORTH TEXAS - As Texas voters head to the polls to choose presidential candidates this week, a special law enforcement unit dedicated to investigating election-related complaints in Tarrant County has three cases currently under investigation, but has yet to take any cases to a grand jury for indictments in the year since it was started.

All three of the cases were referred to investigators with the Tarrant County District Attorney's office in the last three months, according to the chief prosecutor with the unit. Nearly a dozen complaints the county sheriff said the unit was reviewing last year in the first weeks after the unit was formed, were all disposed of.

District Attorney Phil Sorrells and Sheriff Bill Waybourn, supported by County Judge Tim O'Hare, announced the unit in February 2023.

It was formed after a court decision determined the state Attorney General's office could not prosecute local election crimes on its own, and local officials said they wanted to have somewhere for people to take complaints.

They set up a page on the Tarrant County website, and Glynis McGinty took a job leading the unit, which also includes two investigators with the DA's office and two investigators with the Sheriff's Office.

McGinty, who anticipates more complaints coming in during this election year, said she sees the unit as necessary even if it has not resulted in any indictments to this point.

"We want our voters to be secure in the fact that their elections are not tampered with, that there's no fraud occurring, and that people are following the law," she said. "That's what democracy is all about."

Some of the early cases referred to the unit included complaints about poll workers and candidate eligibility. McGinty would not elaborate on the cases currently under investigation.

McGinty's unit did not work on an election-related case that was dismissed a few weeks after the unit was announced last year. That case, involving allegations of false signatures on applications for absentee ballots, which resulted in charges in Tarrant County in 2018, was dismissed by a special prosecutor last year.

While the Tarrant County unit was announced as being unique in the state, another law enforcement agency has its own election unit and has issued a citation.

Scott Bedford, the elected Constable in Precinct 4 in the northwest corner of the county, announced his effort on Facebook in October 2022 and invited people to report any election violations they observed.

Bedford said election concerns were one of the complaints he heard most often from citizens. He also wanted his department to have a bigger community presence, so he trained deputies on laws about activities around polling places.

"The election judge has the right to enforce those laws, but if there's nobody to help them enforce it it doesn't really mean anything does it," he said.

The day after the November 2022 election, one of his deputies wrote a citation to someone for violating the code for campaigning too close to the entry door of a polling place.

The citation was given to Judge Chris Gregory, the Justice of the Peace in Precinct 4, and it landed in his own courtroom.

Gregory, who was campaigning outside a polling place that day, denied doing anything wrong, says no one ever approached him that day and that no one with him was cited. The district attorney's office dismissed the case a couple of months later.

"I think that's why it (election integrity) should be with the county as far as the DA's office or the Sheriff's Office, and not with an individual office, that is, once again, possibly have some bias," Gregory said.

Bedford, who said his office had a few other complaints they were waiting for information on, stood by his initiative arguing that even one case was deterring crime.

He said he had not been in contact with the sheriff or DA about their unit. McGinty acknowledged she was aware of the constable's work, but that it is the DA's office, that has the election integrity unit.

As the November election gets closer, McGinty said she anticipates having a dialogue with the Attorney General's office, not to work their cases, but to help each other out when possible.

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