WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, May 15, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Texas House members and local county officials in Fort Worth-area Tarrant County, Texas asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate officials in Tarrant County “to end the pattern…of voter intimidation and harassment.” In a letter addressed to the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Veasey describes his concern about a recently created county-level “election integrity” task force.
In February 2023, Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, along with the Republican county sheriff and district attorney, announced the creation of an election task force. O’Hare cited voter fraud as the rationale for the task force, but voting rights groups and local residents expressed concerns about voter intimidation. The recent letter to the DOJ also notes that during his campaign in which he embraced election denying rhetoric, O’Hare had the support of an extremist group deemed antidemocratic by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“It’s not a coincidence that election policing arose as an issue in Tarrant County, a growing and changing region in North Texas that was once a reliable GOP stronghold but now is increasingly left-leaning,” Democracy Docket contributor Jessica Pishko wrote about the task force in April. A few years back, Tarrant County officials sent Crystal Mason, a Black woman who was ineligible to vote due to a past felony conviction, to prison for casting a provisional ballot that was never counted.
“The new task force seems destined to create more victims like Crystal Mason,” Pishko explained. “Even if people do not serve prison time or are prosecuted, the threat of government surveillance and the disruption of their lives — Mason has spent over five years fighting her conviction — is enough to turn away those who already feel targeted by law enforcement.”
In April, Tarrant County Elections Director Heider Garcia — who was praised by statewide leaders as one of the best in the field — resigned, citing differences with right-wing county officials. Garcia was the target of harassment and death threats after the 2020 election.
“Specifically, we ask your office to conduct a federal investigation into the County Judge’s actions to protect minority voters in Tarrant County from harassment and discrimination,” Veasey’s letter concludes. “We also are interested in learning the steps the U.S. Department of Justice is taking to combat voter-suppression tactics disguised as so-called “Election Integrity” task forces.”
“Election integrity” task forces have proliferated across the country over the past year, raising concerns for voter intimidation. In spring 2022, at the request of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), the Florida Legislature created the Office of Election Crimes and Security, a special police force to investigate election crimes. The first 19 arrests under the new office were all formerly incarcerated and mostly Black individuals who had unknowingly voted while ineligible. Already, several of the cases have been tossed by a court. Georgia and Arkansas also have dedicated election-focused investigative bodies.