Abbott names new election chief after voter citizenship flub
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a new secretary of state on Monday after his previous one resigned amid backlash for wrongly questioning the U.S. citizenship of nearly 100,000 voters.
The Republican governor announced in a statement that he appointed Texas Workforce Commission Chair Ruth Ruggero Hughs to serve as the new secretary of state, a position that also oversees the state’s elections. Ruggero Hughs has chaired that commission since last August.
“I am proud to appoint Ruth as Secretary of State and I am confident that her experience at the Texas Workforce Commission will translate into success in this new role,” Abbott said. “Under Ruth’s leadership, we will continue to build the Texas brand on the international stage and uphold the integrity of our elections.”
The Republican governor’s appointment comes after former Secretary of State David Whitley’s office led a botched scouring of voter rolls in January that misidentified scores of people as non-citizens. Facing questions about the review from Congress, the state ended up settling a federal lawsuit.
President Donald Trump used the information Whitley’s office provided to renew his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.
Whitley stepped down in May as it became clear that Democrats in the Texas Legislature would deny him the confirmation vote needed to continue serving. He transitioned soon after to a new job as a special advisor to Abbott with a salary of $205,000.
Republicans never forced a vote on Whitley, sidestepping partisan battles ahead of a potential fight for their GOP majority in 2020.
Dallas state Rep. Rafael Anchia, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said in a statement that the caucus invites Ruggero Hughs to work closely with lawmakers to rebuild confidence in the department.
“Texas ranks near the bottom of voter turnout nationwide,” Anchia said. “And when Texans sense that election officials are rigging the system, it reduces participation and harms our democracy.”
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, chairman of the Democratic caucus in the chamber, said he is concerned about Ruggero Hughs’ vote in April supporting a rule change that exempts app-based companies that hire contractors from paying unemployment insurance for those workers.
The Democrat from El Paso said that rule change should have instead been accessed by the Legislature and that he is looking further into Ruggero Hughs’ qualifications for the position.
“I would like to know more about her background regarding voting and whether she has any track record of supporting more access to the ballot box or the opposite,” Rodriguez said.
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