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Woman who sued Tarrant County elections chief is now a finalist for his job, report says

Heider Garcia talks to press.
Chris Connelly
Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia talks to members of the press. Garcia resigned from his role as elections administrator after a conversation with Republican Tarrant County Judge Tim O'Hare.

A woman who sued outgoing Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia over 2021 elections data is now a finalist for Garcia's job, according to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Karen Wiseman sued the county over what she said were inadequate measures to preserve information related to Fort Worth mayor and city council races in 2021. She's also previously claimed to be a member of an unidentified "election integrity" group investigating voting anomalies at the time, according to the paper.

Sources told the Star-Telegram that Wiseman is one of three finalists for the job. The other two are the county clerk's chief deputy, Clinton Ludwig, and former Trinity Metro Chief Financial Officer Fred Crosley.

Garcia resigned in April after a meeting with Tarrant County Judge Tim O'Hare, during which he said the two disagreed on values. In his resignation letter, Garcia said he approached his role with "respect and zero politics."

In the wake of Garcia's resignation, the county judge was asked whether he would commit to not hiring someone who spread falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election, in which Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. O'Hare declined to do so.

Abby Church covers Tarrant County government for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She joined KERA's Bekah Morr to discuss the ongoing elections administrator selection process.

The below interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you kind of just catch us up to speed on Karen Wiseman? What's her background and qualifications for this position?

When you are looking at Karen Wiseman, the first time the Star-Telegram reported about her, we had gotten a note about a voter in Fort Worth, and this voter had voted at a Stop Six voting location. And if you are unaware of how voting in Tarrant County works, we have countywide voting — if you're a registered voter, you can cast your vote at any voting center across the county, whether that is the one that's closest to your school or the closest to your workplace or the closest to your home. So this voter had happened to cast her ballot at a Stop Six voting location, which is not where this person lived.

And they got a letter in their mailbox inquiring whether or not they had voted at the Stop Six voting location, because they had noticed "anomalies" in the data and a large number of people voting at this specific location in South Six. And this letter was signed by Karen Wiseman, who identified herself as working with a group that looked into the integrity of local elections. She didn't identify which group, but that is the first time that we have reported about her. And she also has sued the former elections administrator, Heider Garcia. She had filed a lawsuit against him in Tarrant County in December 2021 over some public records request she had made to about the Fort Worth City Council and mayoral races.

A photo looking down the aisle of a crowded government meeting room. A woman has her back to the camera as she speaks at a podium before the five members of the commissioners court, who sit on a raised dais.
Miranda Suarez
Tarrant County commissioners hear public comment about the resignation of Heider Garcia, the county's elections administrator, at a meeting on April 18, 2023.

So can you kind of tell us more about what this lawsuit that she filed against Heider Garcia actually revolved around?

She had filed this lawsuit against the county and Garcia surrounding these records because she had requested data around the 2021 Fort Worth mayoral and city council races. And basically what she claimed in the lawsuit, when you're looking at the documents, was that the elections office didn't take measures to preserve information beyond what was required in state election code. And she also made some claims that the county had denied other requests that she had filed for information on.

But she dropped that suit once she started interviewing for this position, right?

Not dropped. When you're looking at the court records website, the case was closed the same day that a lot of the interviews for the [elections administrator] job began.

I'm curious — can you talk about why it's so unusual to see a candidate with this partisan background become a finalist for election administrator?

You know, I spoke with an expert about that over at the University of Houston. And the one thing that he told me about this situation in particular — I laid out all the details to him, and what he told me is when you are looking at the position of an elections administrator, obviously that person's job is not only to run elections, but also make sure constituents know that they're being run fairly. And what he told me is that actions that are taken to make that role seem more partisan would potentially make voters think that the whole entire process is partisan.

And so what are the next steps in the hiring process for the election administrator? When will we know more about who is going to take on that spot in Tarrant County?

The elections commission is the one in Tarrant County that is in charge of hiring the new elections administrator, and that body is made up of the Tarrant GOP chair, it's made up of the Democratic Party chair, the county tax assessor collector, the county clerk and the county judge. They are going to be meeting Friday, and there's going to be more rounds of interviews. So the three finalists are going to be brought in. And I'm not sure when we're going to hear a decision on that, but I'm sure we'll probably hear pretty soon after that.

Abby Church covers Tarrant County government for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Rebekah Morr is KERA's All Things Considered newscaster and producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered.