Former President Donald Trump is doubling down on his request for election audit legislation that could allow a review of mail-in and in-person ballots across Texas. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Gov. Greg Abbott is failing to appease some inside his party — including former President Donald Trump — with the “forensic election audit” that the state announced Thursday.

Trump released a letter to Abbott on Thursday urging him to add audit legislation, which could allow a review of mail-in and in-person ballots across the state, to the agenda for the current special session agenda. Instead, the secretary of state’s office announced later that day that it was already starting to audit the 2020 election results in four of the state’s biggest counties.

In a new statement to The Texas Tribune on Wednesday, Trump said it is “a big mistake for Texas” not to pass the audit legislation, House Bill 16 by Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands).

“By allowing the Democrats to do what they do, it will make it much harder for the Governor and other Republicans to win election in 2022 and into the future,” Trump said. “Texas is a much redder state than anyone knows, but this is the way to make sure it turns blue.”

There has been no evidence of widespread election fraud in Texas, where Trump defeated President Joe Biden by 6 percentage points. After the November election, a secretary of state official said Texas’ election was “smooth and secure,” and nationwide, Trump’s own Attorney General Bill Barr said there was no fraud detected that could have changed the outcome of the election.

Asked for comment on Trump’s latest statement, Abbott’s office defended its current course of action.

“Texas is conducting the largest forensic audit in the country to ensure the integrity of the 2020 election, as well as the integrity of elections going forward,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement, also noting the new elections bill that Abbott recently signed into law. “We have all the tools necessary to conduct a full, comprehensive audit, and that process will address any irregularities and ensure all valid votes are counted.”

There was initially not much detail about the announcement from the secretary of state’s office, which promised a “full forensic audit” in Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties. But on Tuesday night, the office released a document explaining the parameters of the review, showing the scope of the effort may be more limited than promised — and include measures that counties are already required to take after an election that focus primarily on reviewing procedures and protocols. The state’s audit could also include reviews of records of voting machine accuracy tests, rosters for early voting, forms detailing chain of custody for sealed ballot boxes and other election materials maintained by the counties.

Even then, the review announced by the secretary of state’s office is not the same as what Trump demanded from Abbott — the addition of HB 16 to the special session call. That bill would allow state or county party chairs to request audits of the 2020 election that could result in the forming of election review advisory committees that would review ballots from randomly selected precincts. It would also outline a process for candidates and party chairs to ask for reviews in future elections.

“Texas needs you to act now,” Trump told Abbott. “Your Third Special Session is the perfect, and maybe last, opportunity to pass this audit bill. Time is running out.”

The pressure from Trump, who is still a dominant GOP leader, puts Abbott in an awkward position as he continues to battle attacks from his primary opponents that he is not conservative enough, while touting Trump’s endorsement in the race. Trump has endorsed Abbott for reelection next year, but his push for HB 16 mirrors that of the challengers.

Abbott’s opponents say the announcement by the secretary of state’s office is no alternative to HB 16.

“It’s not sufficient,” Allen West, the former Texas GOP chair, said in a statement. “I support the election audit legislation proposed by Rep. Steve Toth.”

Another Abbott primary challenger, former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, said Trump “was very clear in what he asked Greg Abbott to do: pass House Bill 16.”

“Greg Abbott is refusing that request and obfuscating the issue by pretending to audit four counties,” Huffines said in a statement. “It’s just the latest example of his failed leadership.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.

Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Patrick Svitek is the primary political correspondent for The Texas Tribune and editor of The Blast, the Tribune's subscription-only daily newsletter for political insiders.