As Tarrant County’s Republican Sheriff Bill Waybourn explained his plan to increase the policing of local elections, he tried to reassure anyone worried about his fealty to former President Donald Trump or alarmed by the election-denying wing of his party.
“I’m not a conspiracy [theorist]. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the president, and I believe Joe Biden is the president—I believe all that,” the famously right-wing sheriff told county commissioners at their Feb. 21 meeting. “But I do know that there are people who are concerned, and they have a concern, and it’s a legitimate concern.”
Waybourn launched the new Election Integrity Task Force “to investigate and prosecute individuals perpetrating voter fraud within Tarrant County” last month in coordination with newly-elected District Attorney Phil Sorrells and Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare, both of whom promised to ratchet up policing of elections when campaigning with Trump’s endorsement last year. In his presentation to county commissioners, Waybourn said the task force, which will solicit and investigate complaints about elections, would be staffed with existing county employees, including two sheriff’s investigators, two DA’s investigators and one prosecutor.
“The whole idea of the DA and sheriff standing together, I think it’s a very important message to the community, and I think it’s a very important message that we’re centralizing that,” the sheriff told commissioners. “I think it’s a very important message that this is being handled by professional investigators and professional prosecutors.”
Roy Brooks, one of the two Democrats on the five-member commission, told Waybourn “there is no demonstrable issue with election integrity in Tarrant County.” Brooks spoke slowly but sternly as he told the sheriff, “I am concerned that we are enshrining in our current county infrastructure the ability to deny the results of any election that the three of you (Waybourn, Sorrells, and O’Hare) take exception to.”
When Brooks called the task force a “conspiracy” to undermine election results that local conservatives don’t like, he drew audible gasps and jeers from the more than a dozen people in the crowd who had signed up to testify in support of the sheriff’s idea.
The meeting followed years of conservative activists in North Texas spreading baseless conspiracies about widespread voter fraud. As Bolts reported last year, Republican lies about the 2020 election have emboldened conservative activists in Tarrant County, a county of more than 2 million people that’s home to Fort Worth and the last urban Republican stronghold in Texas, to further question local election results and political trends that reflect the increasing left-leaning population of the county. (The county voted for Joe Biden in 2020 by a bare majority.)
These conspiracies continue to rage despite Tarrant County’s election administrators being widely lauded for running smooth and secure elections. A state audit of the county’s 2020 general election concluded that elections staff delivered a “quality, transparent election,” while the former Republican-appointed secretary of state (someone who briefly aided in Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election) recently praised Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia as the “prototype for an election administrator.”