WASHINGTON — Lawyer Basic Ken Paxton tried to get the Trump administration to revoke hundreds of thousands in federal COVID reduction funding that Harris County budgeted for increasing mail-in voting earlier this yr, newly revealed information present.
Paxton wrote in a May 21 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Harris County’s plan was an “abuse” of the county’s authority and an “egregious” violation of state legislation. The letter was obtained and printed by the Residents For Accountability and Ethics in Washington.
“We respectfully ask the division to scrutinize its award of CARES Act funding to Harris County in mild of the county’s acknowledged intent to make use of federal funding in violation of state legislation, and to the extent potential, search return of any quantities improperly spent on efforts to advertise unlawful mail-in voting,” Paxton wrote. “With out implementing sufficient protections towards illegal abuse of mail-in ballots, the division could possibly be forged ready of involuntarily facilitating election fraud.”
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The letter to Mnuchin illustrates the lengths Paxton went in his efforts to cease Harris and different counties from making it simpler to vote by mail throughout the pandemic, which included suing Harris County because it tried to ship mail ballots functions to all 2.4 million of its registered voters. The mail-ballot software push was a part of the county’s $27.2 million plan to increase voting choices, funded largely by way of CARES Act cash.
Paxton and different state leaders alleged that mail-in voting is extra vulnerable to fraud, although there is no such thing as a proof to help these claims. Paxton’s workplace resolved 16 prosecutions for voter fraud in 2020, all minor circumstances from Harris County during which residents gave false addresses on their voter registration types.
The Texas Supreme Court docket ruled in October that County Clerk Christopher Hollins exceeded his authority by trying to ship functions to voters who had not requested them. Harris County had printed 2 million functions by that point and needed to destroy them.
The Treasury Division didn’t instantly reply to a request for touch upon whether or not Mnuchin heeded Paxton’s request to analyze how Harris County used the funding.
In a written assertion, County Choose Lina Hidalgo mentioned that the lack of the funds “would have knocked the ground out of our residents’ skill to vote safely” throughout an essential election held in the course of a world pandemic.
“This try to chop off emergency federal funding for fellow Texans is indefensible,” she mentioned. “To take action in secret is actually a disgrace and I’m relieved that is now out within the open.”
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Members of the Texas Democratic Get together accused the legal professional basic of “selecting fights” to distract from his private life.
“In the course of the largest pandemic in American historical past, each Texan ought to have been afforded the chance to vote as safely as potential. Indicted Texas Republican Lawyer Basic Ken Paxton continues to attempt to choose fights to distract away from his private life and his abuse of workplace. Paxton is a carnival barker who has made Texas a laughingstock along with his ridiculous inquiries and lawsuits. To revive belief within the Lawyer Basic’s workplace, we should all band collectively to vote him and his abuse of energy out in 2022.”
Paxton has been awaiting trial since 2015, when a Collin County grand jury indicted him on felony safety fraud expenses. In November, information surfaced that he’s additionally underneath investigation by the FBI after eight of his former aides accused him of illegally utilizing his place to profit a political donor.
Officers from the Harris County Republican Get together didn’t instantly accessible for remark Tuesday afternoon. Gov. Greg Abbott’s workplace didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, mentioned he shared a few of Paxton’s considerations.
“We printed and disposed of about 2 million absentee poll types,” he mentioned. “And I would love a full accounting for all these monies. … If we’re going to spend that form of cash, we want an accounting of the way it was spent.”
Bob Stein, a Rice College political scientist, mentioned Paxton’s letter mirrored comparable efforts from the legal professional basic within the months main as much as the election to limit voting, together with stopping the county from sending out poll functions, suing to restrict drop-off poll places, and different measures.
He mentioned Paxton’s habits “perplexed” him.
“Paxton is claiming somebody broke legislation (by voting illegally),” he mentioned. “He’s the chief legislation enforcement officer in Texas. If he thought one thing illegally was being achieved, why isn’t he investigating?”