Texas’ Top Election Official Resigns, Abbott Names Replacement
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas’ top election official, Secretary of State John Scott, resigned from that post on Monday, saying he will relinquish the office at the end of the year.
As a result, on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced he will appoint Republican State Sen. Jane Nelson, who sat out this past election after 11 terms in the state Legislature, to fill the impending vacancy.
In the letter of resignation given to Abbott on Monday, Scott said he believes he restored faith in Texas elections by, among other things, establishing a forensic election audit team.
“With a successful 2022 general election in the rear view mirror, and the final findings of the 2020 forensic audit soon to be released, I write to inform you that I intend to return to private practice at the beginning of the new year,” Scott wrote.
But Scott’s tenure was not without its controversies, owing, in part, to Abbott’s initial refusal to accept Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election and the governor’s involvement in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania.
It didn’t help that Abbott didn’t follow standard procedure in naming Scott to the post. Typically in Texas, the secretary of state is appointed by the governor and then confirmed by the Texas Senate; instead, Abbott appointed Scott in October 2021, after that year’s legislative session, avoiding the confirmation process.
Two weeks later, in November 2021, Scott signed on as counsel to a lawsuit filed by Trump and his supporters attempting to block certification of Pennsylvania’s election, only to reverse course days later and file a motion to withdraw as an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Though the Texas secretary of State is involved in many areas of government — from the issuance of business permits to dealing with the Mexican government in regard to immigration concerns, Scott will perhaps be best remembered as the official charged with implementing the controversial new Texas election law, Senate Bill 1.
A response to Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, SB1 largely restricted how and when voters could cast ballots, and banned overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting, which had proven popular with voters of color during the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure also tightened voting-by-mail rules — making it a felony for election officials to proactively distribute applications for mail-in ballots — gave partisan poll watchers more freedom inside polling places, and established criminal penalties for some forms of voter assistance.
As a result of confusion over the new rules, first used in this year’s spring primaries in Texas, a record number of mail-in ballots were rejected because voters didn’t understand or know the new ID requirements.
Though the rejection rate for mail-in ballots improved for the November election, it was still higher than before SB1 went into effect.
Scott assumed control of a forensic audit of the 2020 election investigating results in four counties, a probe initiated at Trump’s request despite the fact he won the state by 5 percentage points over Joe Biden.
An initial preliminary report on the audit released late last year said no malfeasance had occurred. The end of the second phase of the probe is expected to be announced by year’s end.
Earlier this year, Scott established a forensic audit division within his office headed by the former head of election law at the conservative lobby group and think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
But in his resignation letter, Scott, a Fort Worth attorney, said the auditing process had left him with “a deep appreciation for the difficult, meticulous and often thankless job of local election officials in safeguarding the integrity of the ballot box.”
“Ensuring confidence in our elections and building the Texas brand on the international stage are crucial for the continued growth and success of our great state,” Abbott said in a statement, accepting Scott’s resignation.
Of Nelson, who in recent years has been the highest ranking Republican woman in the Texas state senate, Abbott said her lifelong commitment to public services and deep understanding of state government, “will be assets in her new role ensuring the critical duties of secretary of State are fulfilled.
“Nothing is more important to a free society than fair elections, and the State of Texas will continue working to uphold and protect this right,” Abbott said.
Nelson and her husband, J. Michael Nelson, owned and operated an aircraft component manufacturing company in Denton County, Texas, just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. They have five children and 12 grandchildren.