Elections administrator Heider Garcia has resigned from his position, according to a letter obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In the letter, dated April 16 and addressed to County Judge Tim O’Hare and County Administrator G.K. Maenius, Garcia cites a meeting with O’Hare and differing ideas for running transparent elections as the reason for his departure. In the section of the letter addressed to O’Hare, Garcia wrote that his “formula to ‘administer a quality transparent election’ stands on respect and zero politics” and that compromising on those values wasn’t an option for him.
“You made it clear in our last meeting that your formula is different, thus, my decision to leave,” Garcia wrote. “I wish you the best; Tarrant County deserves that you find success.” It’s unclear what meeting Garcia was referring to in his resignation letter. At a True Texas Project meeting April 10, O’Hare told the crowd during a question and answer segment that he planned to have a “closed door executive session discussion” about the election administrator’s performance after May 6 municipal elections. During that meeting, some crowd members took the microphone to critique Garcia’s performance as elections administrator, eliciting cheers. An emcee had to the crowd that the segment was for asking questions.
O’Hare was one of the five elected officials who voted to bring Garcia to Tarrant County in 2018. At the time, O’Hare was serving as Tarrant GOP’s chair and was on the county’s election board. In a statement Monday afternoon, O’Hare wrote: “As County Judge and Chair of the Tarrant County Election Commission, I want nothing more than quality, transparent elections in Tarrant County. Supporting the creation of an Election Integrity Task Force was all about quality, transparent elections. Mr. Garcia voluntarily resigned his position, and I wish him well in his future endeavors. I will be calling a meeting of the County Election Commission in the coming days to discuss the hiring of a new Elections Administrator.” Garcia wrote that his last day will be June 23 to allow his staff to complete duties surrounding upcoming municipal elections and potential runoffs. He has been with the county since 2018. Early voting for the May 6 election begins April 24. Garcia and Maenius could not immediately be reached for comment. ELECTION INTEGRITY UNIT FORMED O’Hare campaigned for county judge on creating an election integrity officer position that would look into best elections practices and be a watchdog for voter fraud. That plan went on the wayside when newly elected District Attorney Phil Sorrells and Sheriff Bill Waybourn created an election integrity unit in February with a goal of looking into voter fraud cases. No members of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court were told about the unit’s creation ahead of its announcement, and the plan was met with contention from Democratic commissioners. Commissioner Alisa Simmons wrote in a statement at the time that the unit had “nothing to do with fair and legal elections and everything to do with appeasing ultra-partisan election deniers within their party.”
Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said the way the three GOP leaders went about creating the unit was not the way business was usually done in Tarrant County. “For these three to set themselves up to be in a position to challenge the results of any election with which they disagree with the results is to enshrine in Tarrant County policy a mechanism for election deniers to try to overturn any election that did not go their way,” Brooks said at the time, adding that there were already mechanisms in place to investigate voter fraud. Throughout Garcia’s time in Tarrant County, his office had undergone multiple measures to ensure election transparency, like inviting members of the public to the elections office to participate in a mock election while workers tested machines.
Tarrant County was one of four Texas counties that participated in an elections audit by the secretary of state at the request of former president Donald Trump. That audit came back with few issues. Election administrators have been harnessed nationwide following former president Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election in 2020. Garcia, too, has received death threats for his work in Tarrant County. Garcia thanked Maenius in his letter for his leadership, support and guidance during his time as elections administrator.
“You believed in me and provided me all the tools I needed to do my job,” Garcia wrote. “I say to you what I said to Judge Glen Whitley when we canvassed the November 2022 election: ‘Thank you for your leadership, and for just letting elections officials do their job and stay out of politics. That means the world to us.’ Garcia continued, “When leadership respects the team’s values and shows trust, members of the team become the best version of themselves. You knew this, Judge Whitley knew it, and because of that, I leave Tarrant County a better man and a better professional.” WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TARRANT COUNTY? Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU, said Garcia’s resignation might have a “chilling effect” on anyone becoming the new elections administrator. We live in a country now where there’s disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about accepting election results, Riddlesperger said.
“To the degree that we are raising that conflict, you know, it’s going to make it, I think, even more difficult moving forward — it could make it more difficult moving forward — to kind of have consensus about who wins elections,” Riddlesperger said. Tarrant County is widely regarded as the last large Republican county in the state and likely the nation, Riddlesperger said. Republican leaders have come in with election initiatives that call into question their transparency while the secretary of state says the elections are clean. That disagreement is what Riddlesperger calls a “microcosim” of what’s happening nationally. “The question of how that’s going to play out moving forward is something that I think is both interesting to potentially devastating,” Riddlesperger said. “Because if we can’t even agree that elections are fair, then obviously it’s really difficult to govern.”