The Texas Secretary of State's Office has told the state’s most populous county that it will send inspectors there to observe vote counting during the November election.
In a letter Tuesday, the director of the secretary of state’s forensic audit division, Chad Ennis, told the elections administrator in Harris County, Clifford Tatum, that an audit of the county had found “serious breaches of proper elections records management” in the handling of mobile ballot boxes in the 2020 general election.
Harris County is home to Houston and leans Democratic. The letter came less than a week before the start of early voting in the state.
Ennis said preliminary findings in the secretary of state’s audit include “at least 14 locations where chain-of-custody documentation is lacking at best and missing at worst.”
In light of those findings, Ennis wrote that the secretary of state’s office will provide “a contingent of inspectors” to the county to “perform randomized checks on election records” and “observe the handling and counting of ballots and electronic media.”
The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has also agreed to dispatch a task force to Harris County that “will be available at all times during the election period in order to immediately respond to any legal issues identified by secretary of state, inspectors, poll watchers, or voters,” Ennis wrote.
In a statement to NBC News, the Secretary of State's Office said it sends inspectors to many counties during state elections, including Harris County, citing Chapter 34 of the Texas Election Code.
"Our inspectors and trainers will be present to help Harris County officials and ensure the election process is run smoothly and securely in the upcoming November general election, and that the mistakes observed in the past are not repeated, and that no eligible voters have their votes discounted because of administrative errors," as spokesman for the secretary of state's office, Sam Taylor, said.
Taylor dismissed any criticism over the move, saying that any organization that attempts to cast it as "an attempt to sow distrust or intimidate voters" is "lying."
NBC News reached out to Tatum, the Harris County election administrator, for comment.
The review in Texas was launched last year after former President Donald Trump pushed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for an examination of the 2020 election results in the state, which Trump won handily. The secretary of state’s office announced hours later that it had begun reviews in Dallas and Harris counties, the two largest Democratic counties, and Tarrant and Collin counties, the two largest Republican ones.
The review came amid similar efforts by Republicans in several other states as Trump sought to undermine the results of the 2020 election with baseless allegations of voter fraud.