New Texas Secretary of State wants to restore ‘faith in our system’

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After her predecessor was mired in controversy over the state’s voter rolls, the new Texas Secretary of State hopes Texans will have faith in the election process.

“Every day I know that we are going to make sure that we do the best we can to make sure Texans have a lot of faith in our system and that they really help us to continue to shape the future of our state by having their voices heard,” Ruth Hughs said Tuesday.

Hughs, who has been on the job for less than two months, was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott last month following the resignation of David Whitley— a former Abbott aide— at the end of the legislative session. Earlier this year, a few months into his new role, Whitley released a list of 95,000 ‘non-citizens’ who voted in recent Texas election; however, thousands of them were citizens of the United States with voting rights after they were naturalized. Whitley was not confirmed by the Texas Senate, and resigned. He is now back in Abbott’s office as an advisor.

“I have the mandate to make sure that we protect the integrity of the election process and that is where my focus is,” Hughs said. “It is not political but it is very much in making sure that we get it right for Texas.”

“I feel like I show up every day and do the best job I can do in the time that I have to do it,” Hughs said Tuesday. “I’m really proud and honored to serve and that the governor has entrusted me with this position.”

“I know it is a very important time and so I am really committed to doing everything we can do to make sure that there is a lot of faith in the process and that we get it right and that we really secure that integrity of our election process,” Hughs said.

Tuesday marked National Voter Registration Day, where civic engagement groups, governmental entities, and political organizations urge eligible voters to register.

Texans can register to vote until Oct. 7 for the Nov. 5 election. All ballots will have 10 constitutional amendments for voters to decide on. Some voters will also have special elections, with a few local and state seats recently vacated.

“We know that an active and engaged citizenry is really essential to our democracy, so we want to make sure that everyone that is eligible registers to vote,” Hughs, who serves as the state’s top elections official, said.

Hughs has begun school visits to drum up engagement for young potential voters, and “making sure that they appreciate the importance of it.”

“It’s just important to really take an opportunity to vote since it is such a tremendous privilege that we have in this country,” she explained.

“Studies have showed the earlier in life that you begin to vote the more likely you are to be a long time voter, so I think there is a lot of value in promoting that,” Hughs said, adding that her office is working with local elections officials to ensure they have the resources they need to get the word out.

As of this month, there are 15,823,406 registered voters in Texas — a new state record, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

State data shows in the 2018 gubernatorial election, 15.7 million of 19.9 million eligible Texans registered to vote. 8 million turned out to the polls. In the 2017 constitutional amendment election, 15 million of the state’s eligible 19.5 million Texans registered, and only 877,000 actually voted. In the 2016 presidential election, 15.1 million of the 19.3 Texans in the voting age population registered, and 8.9 million turned out.

“I suspect there is just a lot more interest in civic engagement,” Hughs explained. “Our state is continuing to grow and we are continuing to have more people moving here, more people reaching voting age and so (we’re) continuing to monitor that participation.”

The Texas Secretary of State’s office has published additional details, including where to find voter registration information, polling places and early voting details online.

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