As Donald Trump intensifies his claims that widespread voter fraud this November could derail his election, he is finding a sympathetic constituency among some Texas Republicans who have long sounded the alarm about mischief at the ballot box.
"We do share a concern" with Trump, Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler said Tuesday. "We know it's out there, and we know it's massive. We're doing everything we can to identify and to prepare for it."
As Trump's campaign has tumbled, the Republican presidential nominee has increasingly complained that the election is "rigged" against him. In recent days, he has been more vocal than ever describing a conspiracy against his candidacy that includes "large scale" voter fraud, although proven cases in Texas or elsewhere are rare — and virtually unheard of on the scale Trump is suggesting.
The spectre of voter fraud has factored prominently in Texas politics for years, raised largely by Republicans who have won virtually every statewide election for almost two decades. The state's controlling party aggressively seeks to root out alleged fraud, while Democrats decry such GOP efforts as a ploy to suppress the vote.
Passed in 2011, Texas' strict voter ID law repeatedly landed the state on the national stage, most recently earlier this year when a federal appeals court found it discriminatory.
If anyone is trying to rig the presidential election, Texas is not the place to do it, according to state election officials. The secretary of state's office noted Tuesday that Texas' election system is "highly decentralized," making it very difficult for a successful statewide conspiracy.
"The election isn’t conducted on a statewide level but in each of Texas’ 254 counties, which use a variety of voting machines and methods," Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, said in a statement. "Due to the decentralization, plus the layers of cross-checking done with election results, prearranging the outcome of a statewide election would be essentially impossible."
Pressed on how widespread he believes voter fraud is in Texas, Mechler said he does not believe it is present in every county but insisted there are "pockets of this state that are a real problem, and we have to watch." He declined to name the areas while speaking with the Tribune at the Bexar County GOP headquarters, where signs adorn the walls asking for poll watchers on Election Day.
To be sure, not every Texas Republican is fully echoing Trump's claims about far-reaching voter fraud. That includes U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who kept the focus on the need for heavy turnout when asked Tuesday if he was worried about the integrity of the election this November in the Lone Star State.
"Voter fraud has long been a challenge in America, but the best way to combat voter fraud is for voters to turn out in such overwhelming numbers that corrupt politicians can't steal an election," Cruz told the Tribune on Tuesday, leaving an event in San Marcos. He declined to comment further when asked whether he specifically shared Trump's concerns about the election being "rigged."
For months, Trump has been making vague allegations that his opponents — the media, Democrats and even members of his own party — are trying to steal the election from him. In recent days, however, he's sharpened his focus to voter fraud, tweeting Monday that "of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day."
The problem has gotten a fresh look in recent days in Texas amid reports that the state is investigating voter fraud in Tarrant County, Texas' third most populous county. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the probe involves mail-in ballots, which do not require ID and have long been singled out as vulnerable to fraud.
Proven cases of voter fraud are highly uncommon in Texas. Between the 2012 primaries and July, the attorney general's office prosecuted only 15 cases after receiving more than 360 allegations in the same period.
Among the state's most outspoken voices on voter fraud is Gov. Greg Abbott, who made a point of fighting it as attorney general and called it "rampant" earlier this year. "Texans will crack down on cheating at the ballot box," Abbott tweeted Sunday in response to a story about the situation in Tarrant County.
On Trump's claims about voter fraud this November, however, Abbott's office deferred comment Tuesday to the secretary of state's office. Abbott's successor in the attorney general's office, Ken Paxton, also had no comment Tuesday.
All the while, Texas Democrats have countered that Republicans' voter fraud concerns are insincere, truly meant to push discriminatory legislation while whipping up their base. They repeated that Tuesday, adding that Trump "knows his campaign is in a tailspin — and as a result, he’s weaving a web of excuses with dangerous charges that strike at the core of our country’s democracy."
"The real voter fraud is Texas Republicans' relentless effort to keep Texas’ diverse new majority away from the voting booth," Manny Garcia, the party's deputy executive director, said in a statement. "For years, Texas Republicans have made it harder for people to vote. They’ve clung to power, winning the very elections they say are rampant with voter fraud."
As another day came to a close Tuesday in which Trump complained about the deck being stacked against him, Texas Republicans were again warning about voter fraud. In an email about the Tarrant County investigation, conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan urged supporters to fight for election reform.
"Turns out," Sullivan wrote, "elections really are being rigged."