Hughs’ nomination for another term as the state’s top elections officer was not taken up by the Senate Nominations Committee, effectively forcing her resignation.
“During the course of my tenure, I have been humbled to work alongside so many others in improving the lives of all Texans through fostering and strengthening our international relationships, facilitating business growth and trade, overseeing the conduct of our elections, and promoting civic participation,” Hughs said in a release announcing the departure.
“I am proud of the work that this office has accomplished, and by working collaboratively, we have helped to build a brighter future for all Texans.”
Hughs previously served in the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
“Ruth’s exceptional leadership has helped strengthen the Texas brand on the international stage and grow our businesses and trade relationships around the world. Ruth also served as a trustworthy steward of our elections,” said Abbott.
The point of contention over Hughs by many Texas Republicans centers on the 2020 election, during which multiple counties expanded their elections operations beyond the purview set forth in Texas’ election code. Foremost among those was Harris County’s Interim Elections Administrator Chris Hollins whose office attempted to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters, rather than those who qualify and request them.
In Texas, only those aged of 65 or older, those with a disability or illness preventing them from voting in-person, or those who will be outside their home county during the election can vote by absentee ballot.
Hollins and other elections clerks pointed to the “disability or illness” section and said that a lack of immunity to coronavirus triggered that provision, allowing virtually every voter to vote by mail. That contention was swatted down by the Texas Supreme Court. Hollins also unilaterally expanded drive-thru voting operations in Harris County, mail ballot drop-off locations, and seriously limited the ability of poll watchers to observe the electoral process.
Hughs has been criticized by some for not cracking down harder on Hollins and other clerks that drastically changed the way their counties conducted the election, sometimes outright illegally.
The Secretary of State’s Office serves in a guidance-heavy role without much power to issue dictates. That is by design of the legislature. Texas has a bottom-up electoral system with counties responsible for carrying out election operations within the parameters set by the legislature.
The secretary of state, meanwhile, provides guidance to those county elections administrators on those parameters. The office can issue warnings to counties — as Hughs’ office did to Hollins over the mail ballot expansion — but relies on the Office of the Attorney General to seek injunctive action against counties in violation.
Voter fraud and election reform have fallen under the spotlight since the election last year as the legislature considers significant legislation aimed at securing elections in the state. The Office of the Attorney General said earlier this year that active voter fraud investigations are at an “all-time high” — then with cases against 43 different defendants in the State of Texas, many of which stem from elections previous to 2020.
Hughs said she will transition back into her private practice and the resignation will become effective at the end of the month. With the 87th Legislative Session nearing conclusion, Abbott’s next appointee, if made after the session, will not need Senate confirmation until the legislature convenes again.
Abbott concluded, stating, “I am grateful for our collaboration over the past few years to build an even brighter future for the Lone Star State, and I wish her nothing but the best on her future endeavors.”
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.