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Rural Texas County Gut-Punched by Election Workers' Decision Ahead of Midterms

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Terry Hamilton abruptly left his job running elections deep in Texas wine country, saying it was partly because he was harassed and threatened after the 2020 presidential election.

But he wasn’t alone.

On the brink of November’s midterm elections, it was not just Hamilton who up and quit this month but also the only other full-time election worker in rural Gillespie County.

The sudden emptying of an entire local elections department came less than 70 days before voters start casting ballots.

By the middle of last week, no one was left at the darkened and locked elections office in a metal building annex off the main road in Fredericksburg. A “Your Vote Counts” poster hung in a window by the door.

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A scramble is underway to train replacements and ground them in layers of new Texas voting laws designed to ensure the integrity of elections.

That includes assistance from Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott, whose representative could not recall a similar instance in which an elections office was racing to start over with a completely new staff.

The resignations have more broadly made the county of roughly 27,000 residents — which overwhelmingly backed then-President Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 — an extraordinary example of the backlash against election officials over that race.

Hamilton clashed with poll watchers in Gillespie County in past elections. In November 2020, Republican poll watchers said he illegally denied them access to watch the county handle ballots and count votes, KXAN-TV reported at the time.

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He said he didn’t want to go through all that again.

“That’s the one thing we can’t understand. Their candidate won, heavily,” Hamilton said. “But there’s fraud here?”

In a phone interview, Hamilton declined to discuss the nature of the threats he allegedly received, referring questions to the county attorney, who did not respond to a phone message.

Gillespie County Sheriff Buddy Mills said neither his department nor police in Fredericksburg had received information about threats from elections officials.

Hamilton worked under Anissa Herrera, the former county elections administrator whose resignation was first reported by the Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post.

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“I was threatened, I’ve been stalked, I’ve been called out on social media,” she told the outlet. “And it’s just dangerous misinformation.”

Texas has been at the vanguard of a Republican campaign nationwide to tighten election laws in response to allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election.

A sweeping new voting law gives wide latitude to partisan poll watchers and threatens election workers with criminal charges for denying them access.

In September, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 1, saying in a statement, “Protecting the integrity of our elections is critical in the state of Texas, which is why I made election integrity an emergency item during the 87th Legislative Session.”

Abbott said the legislation would “solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

The news release said SB 1 “creates uniform statewide voting hours, maintains and expands voting access for registered voters that need assistance, prohibits drive-through voting, and enhances transparency by authorizing poll watchers to observe more aspects of the election process.

“The bill also bans the distribution of unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots and gives voters with a defective mail-in ballot the opportunity to correct the defect.”

Republicans are easy to find in Gillespie County, a popular getaway to booming vineyards and vacation rentals in the scenic Texas Hill Country. In 2020, Trump won the county with nearly 80 percent of the vote.

But the resignations surprised Mo Saiidi, chairman of the Gillespie County GOP, who said recent elections had run smoothly.

Hamilton said other issues weighed on the office, including what he contended was a lack of support from the county. He also recently decided to run as a write-in candidate for county treasurer, which he said required him to step down.

Saiidi, who also serves on the county’s election commission, believes funding played a role.

“They had some differences and they couldn’t come to a closure, and they decided in frustration to just quit,” he said.

Many local election officials across the U.S. have quit their jobs, blaming threats, harassment and accusations of favoritism.

A survey released in March by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that one in three election officials knows someone who has left a job in part because of threats and intimidation, and that one in six had experienced threats personally.

The Biden administration’s Department of Justice launched a task force last year to address the issue.

In Texas alone, at least 37 election administrators since the 2020 election have left what were previously stable positions, said Trudy Hancock, president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, citing a presentation she had seen. There are 254 counties in Texas, not all of which have dedicated election administration offices.

The state’s election integrity provisions underscore the challenges a new staff will face getting up to speed under a time crunch.

For now, Saiidi said the county clerk and tax assessor have been discussed as possible fills-in.

Less than 24 hours after the office in Gillespie County officially cleared out, the resignations were front of mind at a pavilion in Fredericksburg, where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke had swung through in his campaign to unseat Abbott.

Roger Norman said he felt the election was still in good hands but called threats a pattern of intimidation.

Outside, at a counter rally of Trump supporters, welder Abel Salazar said he had no concerns with elections in the heavily conservative county and that interest in poll watching was high.

“There are a lot of people that have been volunteering,” Salazar said.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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