AUSTIN – Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to reallocate $ 4 million in funding from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to tackle voter fraud has left a budget hole in a department that is already struggling to fill positions.
On November 19, Abbott announced that it had approved a legislative budget proposal that would provide the necessary funding for the Texas Secretary of State’s office to establish a new election audit division – a division that performs forensic audits complete state elections. This is in addition to the $ 250 million Abbott withdrew from the TDCJ in June to fund the border wall.
Money for the audit was taken from general revenues for correctional security operations in fiscal year 2023 “for the purpose of ensuring the integrity of the elections,” the documents say.
“Ensuring the integrity of our elections is essential to our democracy, and the Texas Secretary of State’s office deserves the resources and support necessary to carry out this ongoing task,” Abbott said in a press release. “The people of Texas must have confidence and confidence in the electoral process, as well as in the results of our elections.
Based in Huntsville, the TDCJ manages and operates all state prisons, state prisons and private correctional facilities under contract, according to its website.
As of December 17, the TDCJ had 375 vacancies. Of these, at least 60 were for correctional officer positions with an average salary of about $ 49,000 per year. In total, the TDCJ has approximately 29,300 employees.
“Recruiting and retaining correctional officers remains the agency’s biggest challenge and our top priority,” said Robert Hurst, TDCJ communications officer. “Before COVID-19, staffing was frequently affected by economic surges and competing employment opportunities. The pandemic has exacerbated these problems. “
The jobs themselves are inherently difficult and often underrated, as evidenced by their low pay, said Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT. The starting salary for a TDCJ correctional officer is $ 36,200 per year.
CLEAT primarily works with county-level jailers, but Wilkison said personnel issues are seen in all state and local detention and prison systems.
Wilkison said understaffing issues create a greater burden on correctional officers as they are expected to supervise more inmates with fewer resources. Lack of staff could also put their safety and that of incarcerated people at risk if an incident occurs and help is not readily available.
“These people are the bravest and most honorable people you can find,” Wilkison said. “[Correctional officers] take dangerous individuals who can harm the whole community and keep them off the streets and away from society. “
He added: “We do not place any value on these people, their sacrifice or their honor. They are no less than any other people who do things to protect the community.
Hurst said the agency was working to improve wages and working conditions in order to increase recruitment.
This includes a recent restructuring of his correctional officer career ladder, where officers can now receive salary increases earlier in their climb and more frequently as they move up, Hurst said. But to fund the changes, the agency removed the recruitment bonus for correctional officers, he added.
The 87th Legislature also approved a 3% salary increase for correctional officers, food and laundry service managers, and grading correctional officers at 23 maximum security institutions. This is where the TDCJ has the highest turnover, said Hurst.
The agency has also closed or shut down six facilities in the past year in an effort to alleviate staff costs, Hurst said.
“We understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for staffing, but we will continue to find new and creative ways to fill critical positions,” he said.
Hurst said the TDCJ would likely recoup the redirected funding through additional appropriations before it’s needed, but it’s unclear when that will happen.
On December 10, the Texas Secretary of State’s office launched the second phase of its election audit targeting Tarrant, Collin, Dallas and Harris counties in which all except Collin County voted in favor. by President Joe Biden.
Republican leaders continue to insist that widespread voter fraud is occurring in the state even though the number of voter fraud cases is less than 0.001%, according to reports.
In the 2020 election, 11 million Texans voted. The Texas attorney general’s office received 24 complaints, of which only a handful have been prosecuted.
Nonetheless, Texas Secretary of State John Scott said the audit “will restore confidence in the Texas election.”
“In recent election cycles voters have faced a crisis of confidence in the very system that underlies our representative form of government,” Scott said previously.
The state has already carried out partial manual recounts, election security assessments and a voter eligibility check, but Scott insisted the need to go further.
The office has issued a request for a comprehensive document of publicly available election materials that it says will cover about 35% of all votes cast in the November 2020 general election in Texas.
“Texas is at the forefront of electoral integrity. As we enter Phase 2 of our full forensic audit of our 2020 election agency, we want to make sure that every eligible voter in Texas knows the ballots votes in Texas are properly processed, compiled and reported by county election officials in accordance with federal and state law, ”Scott said in a press release.
Texas is not the only state to have funded electoral integrity initiatives. Wisconsin taxpayers have funded $ 700,000 in initiatives and Arizona taxpayers are funding an ongoing investigation into the 2020 election.
Even so, Kevin Boyle, professor of American history at Northwestern University, said that an audit – even if it proves that previously established results are correct and that Biden is the legitimate president – will not strengthen beliefs in a system that the elected representatives of the GOP are determined to adopt. demolish.
Boyle said he believes that unless Republican leaders stand up for what is fundamental truth, the election was not stolen and there is no widespread voter fraud, Texans will continue. to see GOP leaders pushing for more electoral restrictions.
“They understand that this election was not stolen, but they are not saying that they are not resisting this fundamental lie. This is what has to happen in the United States, ”Boyle said. “Republican leaders see a political advantage in pushing this lie and in doing so they threaten the democratic system. “
He added: “We need people and there are people in the [Republican] gone… to say that the nation matters more than your political advantage.