John Scott, Texas' top elections official and secretary of state, to step down at end of year

ByJames Barragán, The Texas Tribune
Monday, December 5, 2022
Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs resigns after Senate takes no action on her confirmation
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The Senate Nominations Committee never took up Hughs' nomination, requiring her to leave office at the end of the legislative session.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott will step down from his role as the state's top elections official at the end of the year.

The video above is from a previous report.

"When I took office as Texas Secretary of State in October of last year, I did so with a singular goal and mission in mind: to help restore Texas voters' confidence in the security of our state's elections," Scott wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday. Scott said he would be returning to private practice.

Scott has served as interim secretary of state since Abbott appointed him last fall. He has struggled to walk the line between reassuring the public that the state's elections are safe and secure and entertaining questions from some vocal critics - largely supporters of former President Donald Trump - who cast doubt on the integrity of elections. The Dallas Morning News first reported his resignation.

His announcement comes a month before the start of the legislative session, when the Texas Senate would have considered his permanent appointment to the post. Scott becomes the third consecutive secretary of state appointed by Abbott not to be confirmed by the Senate, stretching back to 2018.

Scott oversaw four statewide elections during his time as secretary of state. He also supervised an audit of the 2020 elections in four of the state's largest counties. Critics have falsely said those elections included outsized voter fraud and irregularities. The first phase of the audit was released on New Year's Eve 2021 and found no significant evidence of widespread fraud.

A news release from Scott's office said he would release the findings of the audit before his departure on Dec. 31. Scott said he would return to private practice "with a successful 2022 General Election in the rear view mirror, and the final findings of the 2020 Texas forensic audit soon to be released."

Scott stepped into the role during tumultuous times for elected officials, with activists urged by former President Donald Trump making unverified accusations of widespread voter fraud and harassing election officials. Voting advocates immediately looked at Scott with a suspicious eye because he had briefly represented Trump in a challenge to the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania. Some activists who claimed widespread voter fraud in that election without any evidence went on to become Scott's biggest critics.

His immediate predecessor, Ruth Ruggero Hughs, also did not support Trump's claims of election fraud and resigned after the Senate, which is led by Trump ally Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, refused to take up her confirmation.

Texas is one of a dozen states that gives the governor power to appoint the secretary of state. In most other states, voters elect a secretary. Aside from running elections, secretaries of state often keep state records and business filings.

In his resignation letter, Scott said he tried to restore faith in the elections by "listening directly to the concerns of local election officials, voters, and grassroots activists from across the political spectrum." A news release from his office also noted he had worked to educate voters about the election process, alluding to his work in the run-up to the midterm elections to push back on claims of voter fraud and open up the process of election to administration to the public, including critics.

"I was able to understand how to better educate Texas voters about their most sacred civic duty," he said. "I also gained a deep appreciation for the difficult, meticulous, and often thankless work of local election officials in safeguarding the integrity of the ballot box."

Scott's efforts earned him plaudits from state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.

"John Scott did a tremendous job in his tenure, and especially by the establishment of forensic election audits in Texas," Bettencourt said in a statement on social media. "His appointment by @GovAbbott brought exceptional business and governmental experience to the State's highest election official."

Scott also served in a diplomatic role as secretary of state, most importantly working with Mexico, the state's top trading partner during a time of high tensions between Texas and its neighbor to the south. Abbott has taken unprecedented steps to crack down migrants crossing through Mexico into Texas' southern border, and Scott helped negotiate deals with the governors of Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Tamaulipas to increase their border security efforts. Critics, however, say those efforts have not had a major impact on the number of migrants crossing the border.

It is unclear when Abbott will announce Scott's replacement.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.