Paxton, who is currently running for reelection against Democrat Rochelle Garza, has been granted a broad mandate by GOP legislators in Texas to investigate allegations of electoral misconduct, and has fought for more unilateral authority in pursuing criminal charges.
According to the report, Paxton’s office opened at least 390 cases into allegations of electoral crimes between Jan. 2020 and Sept. 2022, securing only five convictions during that time period. At least 10 of the cases investigated by Paxton’s office relate to accusations against poll workers, some of whom tell ProPublica they were blindsided by the claims against them.
The state of Texas has some of the most expansive laws in the country regarding penalties for “obstructing a poll watcher,” or impeding an individual observing the electoral process from seeing or moving about the polling place. The offense can be punished by up to a year in jail.
According to the report at least three of the people investigated by Paxton were “top election officials in their counties.” In one case, the attorney general attempted to prosecute Travis County election official Dana DeBeauvoir, alleging that she had obstructed a poll worker in the course of their duties. DeBeauvoir told ProPublica that the charges came after a volunteer working under DeBeauvoir had a woman who was photographing the ballot count and recording proceedings — a violation of the rules — removed from the polling place. A grand jury declined to indict DeBeauvoir, and the case against the woman removed from the polling place remains pending.
Following the slew of conspiracies regarding allegations of election fraud in the aftermath of the 2020 election, and the targeting of election workers caught in the crosshairs, many states have been struggling to find volunteers to help run elections while hemorrhaging election officials who say the threats and intimidation are not worth the job. Texas is no different.
Paxton’s position overseeing these cases as both a candidate and attorney general is concerning. Paxton is an avid supporter of former President Donald Trump, opposed the certification of Joe Biden as president on Jan. 6, and even filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the 2020 election, which was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. In the aftermath of the election, Paxton made combating “fraud” a top priority, but according to a report from The Houston Chronicle his office spent more that 22,000 staff hours on voter fraud cases in 2020, yet resolved only 16 minor cases, none of which resulted in jail time. Despite the lack of evidence of systemic fraud in the state, Paxton has already laid the groundwork to pursue similar tactics in next week’s midterms. His office has established an “Election Integrity Team,” which includes a tip line for “information about alleged violations of the Texas Election Code.” Paxton has also dispatched a team of election monitors to Harris County, which remains under audit regarding unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
With major candidates, and even the former president, teasing that they will not accept an election result that isn’t a win, the wielding of the attorney general’s office as a cudgel to intimidate poll workers adds another level to the challenges faced in maintaining confidence in the electoral process.