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In 2020, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton mounted a successful legal challenge to block election officials from sending mail-in ballot applications to 2.4 million registered voters in Harris County, the state’s most populous county.
Paxton did not discard mail-in ballots. Every legally cast ballot was counted.
Following the historic impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over allegations of bribery and abuse of office, social media users are falsely claiming Paxton also recently admitted to election interference.
Text on a June 1 TikTok said Paxton was "caught on tape saying he discarded 2.5 million mail-in ballots in Texas." The video’s narrator talks about the prosecutor appointed in Paxton’s case, but does not mention ballots.
TikTok identified the video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with TikTok.)
Another post, shared May 30 on Twitter, claimed Paxton, a Republican, "admitted he stopped Democratic votes from being counted," which the tweet said "would have given President (Joe) Biden and Beto O'Rourke wins in Texas."
Though the social media posts claim this is breaking news, they appear to refer to Paxton’s June 2021 appearance on Steven Bannon’s "War Room" podcast. Paxton said Trump would have lost in Texas in 2020 if the attorney general’s office had not mounted a successful legal challenge to block counties from sending mail-in ballot applications to registered voters.
"Trump won by 620,000 votes in Texas. Harris County mail-in ballots that they wanted to send out were 2.5 million. Those were all illegal and we were able to stop every one of them," Paxton said on the podcast.
"Had we not done that … we would’ve been one of those battleground states that they were counting votes in Harris County for three days and Donald Trump would’ve lost the election," Paxton continued.
In 2020, Trump won Texas by more than 631,000 votes, though he ultimately lost the election to Biden. (The tweet also mentioned the gubernatorial race between current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and O’Rourke, but that election took place in 2022, not 2020.)
But both Paxton’s account and the social media posts misconstrued what happened with mail-in voting in Texas during the 2020 election.
In 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Harris County, the state’s most populous county, could not send out mail-in ballot applications to its 2.4 million registered voters.
County election officials had sought to expand voting options amid the coronavirus pandemic, but Paxton’s office sued to prevent the applications from being mailed. Eligible voters could still request an application to receive a mail-in ballot, but voters younger than 65 did not receive them unsolicited.
Texas has strict mail voting rules, so even if Harris County had been allowed to send all 2.4 million registered voters a mail-in ballot application, not every voter would have qualified to vote by mail in 2020.
In Texas, mail voting is generally limited to voters who are 65 or older, people who will be out of the county on Election Day and during the early voting period and people who have an illness or disability that prevents them from voting in person. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that lack of immunity from COVID-19 alone did not qualify someone to vote by mail.
The TikTok claimed Paxton discarded millions of mail-in ballots in Texas, but there is no evidence that happened. Paxton’s office mounted a successful legal challenge and prevented Harris County from sending out mail-in ballot applications. Every legal ballot cast by mail or in person during the 2020 election was counted.
We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
The Texas Tribune, "Harris County can't send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters, Texas Supreme Court rules," Oct. 7, 2020
The Texas Tribune, "Texas 2020 election results," Dec. 1, 2020
The Texas Tribune, "Texas AG Ken Paxton impeached, suspended from duties; will face Senate trial," May 27, 2023
Voting Rights Lab, "Texas - Mail Voting," accessed June 5, 2023
Podchaser, "Just Like the Aztecs … Election Audits, the Real Unemployment Rate, and the NIH’s Experiments in Child Sacrifice (w/ Ken Paxton, Phillip Patrick, Boris Epshteyn, Joe Allen) by Bannon`s War Room," June 5, 2021
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