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Travis County Democrats say ‘election denialism’ within Republican Party imperils the 2024 primary election

Thursday, December 14, 2023 by Nina Hernandez

In a Wednesday press conference, the Travis County Democratic Party and Travis County elected officials called out “election denialism” within the Travis County Republican Party that they say is keeping the two party organizations from agreeing on rules for primary elections.

The Austin Monitor previously reported on concerns that the two local party groups had not yet come to an agreement on the rules the Travis County Clerk’s Office follows when administering the election. The two parties in Travis County have a decadeslong tradition of entering into these agreements. The first statutory deadline to submit election judge lists was on Monday.

TCDP Chair Katie Naranjo said the party met with the Travis County Clerk’s Office on Nov. 13 prepared to enter the agreement, but the Travis County Republican Party did not participate in the process. Naranjo said the parties do not have sufficient resources to hold two separate primaries.

“It is Dec. 13, and we are no closer to getting a joint primary negotiated than we were back on Nov. 13,” Naranjo said. “We are now drawing attention to this delay because we are very concerned about the impact it is going to have to voters.”

In addition to the uncertainty about how the clerk’s office might oversee the election, the impacts could include an end to countywide voting as well as the cost and delays associated with hand counting of ballots. Naranjo said the party is working with the Travis County Clerk’s Office, the party’s legal team, the Texas Democratic Party and local elected officials to put in place a separate contract that will allow the Travis County Democratic primary process to move forward with minimal disruption and confusion.

“But I want to make something very clear: What the Republicans are basing their actions – and now these contracts – on are based on election denialism and lies and misinformation, and that is detrimental to the transparency and the accuracy and the internal controls and processes that election officials have put in place over decades, and that is what we are fighting for,” Naranjo said. “What we have is a group of election deniers within the Republican Party, who are holding their party’s primary hostage, as well as our primary hostage, in Travis County.”

Naranjo was joined at the press conference by the Texas Democratic Party and Austin elected officials including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, state Rep. Sheryl Cole and state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt.

Jenna Royal, voter protection director of the Texas Democratic Party, said the delay shows Republicans “do not care” about election integrity.

“By trying to hijack the democratic primary process across the state based on nothing but lies and conspiracy theories, they are telling us loud and clear that they do not care about Texas voters,” Royal said. “Republicans are pushing hand counts in counties around the state as another attempt to divest Travis County residents, and other Texans, of their voice and their vote.”

Royal said it is not too late for Republicans to change course, and urged the party to allow for countywide voting.

“We are still at a place where we can get this back on track and make sure that every voter can cast their ballot, and we want to work with those who will move forward with the secure and reliable elections that have been conducted in Travis County for years,” Royal said. “But let’s be very clear: We will use every tool at our disposal to fight for Texans’ right to a free, fair and accessible election. All we are asking is that the Republicans do what we have always done, which is countywide voting that allows everybody in Travis County to vote at their convenience, as their schedule allows, so that their voice can be heard.”

In his remarks, Doggett invoked Texas’ long history of voter suppression tactics and said Republicans have offered “absolutely zero” justification for the changes.

“Even before the more restrictive laws that were approved in the last two sessions of the Legislature were adopted, Texas ranked at the very bottom – the worst state among the 50 – for voting and voter registration,” he said. “Now, Travis County Republicans seem to be going one step further to suppress the vote by making voting as inconvenient and different from the way we have done it in the past as they possibly can.”

Doggett said an end to countywide voting could cause voters to go to their usual polling place next year only to find it is no longer in use. He also noted that hand counting ballots could create onerous delays for election workers and individuals who operate facilities used as polling locations.

“The fewer voting locations and these changes in procedures are all about discouraging voting,” Doggett said. “And we’re here to sound the alarm today. There may not be a grinch that will steal Christmas, but we’ve got a grinch here determined to steal the commonsense way that folks here in Travis County have voted in the past.”

Reached by the Monitor via email, the Travis County Republican Party pointed to a comment its chair, Matt Mackowiak, made to news organization Votebeat earlier in the day. It indicates that the party is still engaged in discussions with the clerk’s office on aspects of a potential agreement and will share more when the contract is executed. Mackowiak further states that the party sent a draft to the county clerk’s office on Friday and received a response on Monday.

“We are responding today,” the comment reads. “Everything we are seeking has been negotiated with Travis County Elections and has been blessed by the Texas Secretary of State’s office.”

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