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Tarrant County picks deputy county clerk to run elections, eschewing GOP activist

The Election Commission unanimously appointed Clinton Ludwig to replace Heider Garcia. None of the three finalists had any election administration experience.

Black storage bags are stacked in rows
Cases of ballots and equipment at the Tarrant County Elections Administration building in Fort Worth, Texas. on May 6, 2023. (Azul Sordo for The Texas Tribune)

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Tarrant County officials on Friday selected a new elections administrator: the county’s chief deputy clerk, a retired U.S. Marine with no previous experience running elections. 

Members of the county’s Election Commission, a group of bipartisan officials tasked with filling the job, voted unanimously to appoint Clinton Ludwig. Former elections director Heider Garcia submitted his resignation in April, citing political pressure. Ludwig will begin his new role Aug. 1.

Ludwig in a statement said his experience will translate to effective election administration in the state’s largest political swing county, citing his “years as a senior executive in a large organization” and “track record of exceeding expectations in all that I undertake.” In the U.S. Marine Corps, he said, he “learned early and often to adapt and overcome.”

The county received 35 applicants, but the majority didn’t have election administration experience, leaving the commission struggling to find a candidate prepared to oversee elections for more than 1 million registered voters. Ludwig was one of three finalists. Another, Karen Wiseman, is a prominent Republican donor and activist who has sued the county and Garcia over election records and has baselessly criticized the security of the county’s elections. The third finalist was Fred Crosley, the former chief financial officer of the county’s public transit service, Trinity Metro. 

Tarrant County officials issued a series of statements highlighting Ludwig’s administrative and military experience, as well as his track record of work for the county. Ludwig has been with the clerk’s office since 2017.

The commission was made up of Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare; the chairs of both county political parties, GOP chair Rick Barnes and Democratic Party chair Allison Campolo; the county’s tax assessor; and the county clerk. 

O’Hare, elected last November after prioritizing “election integrity” during his campaign, quickly debuted an election integrity task force he pushed for while campaigning, despite lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Voters in Tarrant County, a historically deep-red county, favored President Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 1,826 votes in 2020, the only exception to Republican victories down the ballot. Local and national voter fraud activists have questioned election results in the county and have accused Garcia of malfeasance.   

O’Hare and Garcia clashed, prompting Garcia’s departure. Although he publicly denied pressuring Garcia to resign, O’Hare voiced complaints about how Garcia ran the department. For example, O’Hare said it was inappropriate for Garcia to share information with reporters; disagreed with a request for a costly election equipment upgrade; said the March 2022 election results were delayed; and said that Garcia had angered certain local activists. 

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Days after Garcia’s resignation, O’Hare told reporters he wouldn’t rule out hiring someone who questions the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results as the next elections administrator. 

The publicity around Garcia’s resignation, and Tarrant’s rancorous political climate, made it difficult to attract good candidates, said Campolo, the Democratic chair.  

“This is a stressful, hectic job as it is,” Campolo said. “It just takes two seconds to see what’s going on in Tarrant County and see what the news is saying. I can see why that would scare people off either from applying or from going through an interview process.”

Running an election can be a daunting task. The election process is complicated with a lot of logistical moving parts, especially in a state like Texas, where the laws around voting and elections are constantly changing. Campolo said Ludwig stood out during the interview process and was the only candidate who had prepared and read the Election Code because he knew it’d be a crucial part of his role. 

Campolo also asked Ludwig whether he at any moment had questioned the outcome of the 2020 election. 

“He said ‘no’ quickly and without hesitation,” she said. 

O’Hare did not respond to Votebeat’s request for comment or answer questions about the quality of candidates. In a public statement, he said he believes Ludwig is well-positioned to lead the department, specifically pointing to Ludwig’s military experience. 

“He can handle the pressure and Tarrant County voters can rest assured Clint will be a no-nonsense Elections Administrator, and one who will work to ensure safe and secure elections where everyone will feel comfortable in the process,” O’Hare said. 

GOP Party Chair Rick Barnes said, aside from his leadership experiences, Ludwig’s knowledge of the county’s operations, its needs, and its culture contributed to his selection. In addition, Barnes said, the county’s elections department’s staff has the institutional knowledge necessary to help him in the coming months. 

“I think that the leader of any department has the opportunity to build his own team and bring it up to a level that he’s ready to work with,” Barnes said. “But it does help that many of [the workers] have been there for a number of years already, and will be able to help him understand the ins and outs of operation.”

Natalia Contreras covers election administration and voting access for Votebeat in partnership with The Texas Tribune. Contact Natalia at ncontreras@votebeat.org.

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