Secretary of State John Scott, Texas’ top election official, resigns

AUSTIN — Texas Secretary of State John Scott, who is the state’s top election official, will step down at the end of the year.

On Monday, Scott sent a resignation letter to Gov. Greg Abbott saying his last day will be Dec. 31, according to a copy obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

In the letter, Scott said he believes he has restored confidence in elections in Texas and that his oversight of the creation of an election forensic audit team allows him to leave office with a sense of pride.

“With a successful General Election in 2022 in the rear view mirror and the final findings of the 2020 forensic audit soon to be released, I am writing to inform you that I intend to return to private practice at the start of New Year’s Eve,” Scott wrote.

Scott, an attorney who worked under Abbott while he was attorney general, was a controversial Abbott appointee because of his connection to an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania.

In Texas, the Secretary of State is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Texas Senate. Abbott nominated Scott after the 2021 legislative session, so he never went through the confirmation process.

The office oversees elections as well as required filings for Texas businesses. Scott also acted as a diplomat for the state as “Chief of International Protocol”. During his one-year term – Abbott appointed Scott on October 21, 2022 – which included negotiations with the four Mexican states that border Texas in a border dispute that began when Abbott ordered all semis entrants to undergo a tedious inspection process.

But Scott’s main task was to implement a controversial election law that the Legislature passed in 2021 in response to false allegations of widespread voter fraud fueled by former President Donald Trump.

It was not a perfect process. In the spring party primaries, Texas saw mail-in ballots discarded at astronomical rates amid confusion over new ID requirements. This was compounded by widespread fear in local election offices that even providing minimal advice on mail-in ballots would result in officials being jailed.

The number of rejections has improved significantly for the November election, but remains well above what it was before the implementation of the Senate election overhaul bill, Bill 1.

Scott has found himself trying to thread the needle between defending the elections his office has overseen while remaining in good graces with far-right Republicans in Texas who promote false narratives of election integrity that undermine the democracy.

Scott saw angry activists during routine testing of voter gear at a September event in Hays County, where he was yelled at by conspiracy theorists. He also pushed back against pressure from Waco Republican Congressman Pete Sessions to investigate the Dallas County Elections office.

“Nuts” is what Scott called some election deniers in an October interview with Texas monthly in which he said Joe Biden had “absolutely” won the election. But he also balked when asked to report that he had praised the film 2000 Mules, a debunked documentary that many top officials, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, have hosted screenings.

Scott’s departure comes as Texas has not seen a secretary of state confirmed by the legislature in five years. The office has come under greater scrutiny from lawmakers after a 2019 effort led by former Secretary of State David Whitley to purge noncitizens from the voter rolls, a move that officials say opponents, would have effectively disenfranchised more than 100,000 voters who revealed misinformation targeting naturalized citizens and landed in Texas in federal court.

Lawmakers also declined to confirm Whitley. His successor Ruth R. Hughs stayed out of the political spotlight, but resigned at the end of the 2021 legislative session after lawmakers never confirmed her.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. It is unclear when he will appoint a replacement.

Abbott appointed Scott six months after Hughs left. Scott was immediately pushed back by Democrats for his association with Trump’s attempts to void the 2020 presidential election. Scott and State Senator Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, briefly represented the Trump campaign in his legal battle to prevent Pennsylvania from certifying its election results.

He also assumed control of a forensic audit of the 2020 election results in Collin, Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties, an investigation launched after Trump called on Abbott to investigate the results in Texas, despite the state victory by almost 5 percentage points. An initial report quietly released on New Year’s Eve 2021 found nothing fishy.

A second phase completing the probe is expected before the end of the year. As this investigation continued, Scott created a forensic audit division within his office headed by the former election law chief of the conservative lobby group and think tank Texas Public Policy. Foundation.

Throughout his tenure as Secretary of State, Scott continued to work closely with local election officials, and the continued politicization of these offices and the threats they faced ahead of the 2022 midterm elections led Scott to come and defend them.

In his letter of resignation, Scott said he “has gained a deep appreciation for the difficult, meticulous, and often thankless work of local election officials to protect the integrity of the ballot boxes.”

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