AUSTIN, Texas — The new year is a week away and it will be an exciting time for politics, partly because of the election. But when voters head to the polls, they may notice some things are different: Texas' new controversial elections law will be in effect.
Republican lawmakers say it will increase voter integrity, while Democrats say it will make it harder for some people to vote. Opinions aside, elections officials are charged with putting many of these policies into practice, including newly appointed Secretary of State John Scott.
Scott talked with KVUE's Ashley Goudeau about the implementation of the new law:
Ashley Goudeau: There are some people who feel like Senate Bill 1 is going to make it harder for certain populations, for the disabled, for people of color, for some people who live in rural areas, to vote. You're going to be tasked with putting some of these practices, some of the things in Senate Bill 1, into into place. Do you share any of those concerns?
John Scott: "Well, I think the role of Secretary of State is to make sure none of those things happen ever. And when they do, it's like a referee. You need to be able to throw the flag. But S.B. 1 provides more time and for an early elections to take place than it did. Now, not for Houston, Harris County. That's hard to beat, right? 24/7. But we don't have, most counties don't have the funds to operate that way. But overall ... there is now a mandated minimum amount of time that's going to be in the early elections – are going to operate under. I believe there is some case law where the disability language came from. So I think it just incorporated what was in the case law that controlled those issues, and they just codified it. So I don't know that that's a great change on anything, at least with disabled communities. And to the extent anyone does run into those issues, we want to be the ones that have the loudest voice to say, 'Wait, a second, here's an issue. We need to change this.' And I think that's the real role of Secretary of State, as well – is to make sure any issues anyone has, and to the extent anyone based on their race or religion or any other of our uniqueness as a population, encountered difficulties based on that, there are all kinds of tools we can go attack that with and will attack it with."
Goudeau: You know, you have election leaders who are saying, and I think one of the biggest concerns from lawmakers about Senate Bill 1, was the poll watchers and the aspect of poll watchers. What are you telling your election officials across the state about how to handle those situations?
Scott: "I think that's really a neat aspect of the new bill because I think poll watchers now, you know, we've got a very well-defined system with the rolls of the judge, the alternate judge, the clerks, the poll workers. Now, all of a sudden, we have poll watchers who have to go through training and their obligations are going, are already set forth and we're setting up training modules for them to complete. They have to sign off on a verification that they understand, they can't be disruptive and because we have a better understanding, I think it makes it easier on those election judges and the alternate judges to be able to operate their election locations without any kind of interference because it was almost a free-for-all before. And you'd have one set of rules that seemed like imposed upon one set of poll watchers in one location and another on another. Our system, that's really the check and balance that everybody's having a fair election. That's why we have a judge and an alternate judge. They're supposed to be from different parties at each of the precincts. Because if somebody sees something wrong, they're supposed to say something. That's what the poll watcher's job is. It's not to disrupt anyone and to the extent they become disruptive, I think the new legislation makes it clear there'll be consequences to those folks that try and disrupt an election."
Goudeau: Well, there will be consequences, but they have to get a warning. It has to be something that the judge actually sees themselves. It takes more than one – that was some of the controversy, right, that it takes more than one instance of a watcher doing something for an election just to be able to say, 'Hey, you've got to get out of here,' opposed to how it how it was before the law went into effect.
Scott: "Well, and I think it gets back to the confidence in the elections. And is that, does that make it a little more well-documented that someone's done something? I think so, but I think that's, when we're talking about elections, I think we want it well-documented. We don't want it to be a subjective test of one individual hearing about somebody doing something wrong and therefore they want to throw them out. I don't know how many actual instances, and I apologize, of disruptive poll watchers there were. What I do understand now is that the statute clearly sets out what their obligations are, how they're supposed to operate and to the extent they don't, that there will be consequences to that. And it's going to be well documented. So I think that's much more of an objective standard than the subjective operations of the past."
Goudeau: What are your future plans, though, for this office? I know you're still fairly new in the job, coming in, but I'm sure you have some big ideas about things you want to implement.
Scott: "Well, I want to get the audit over with (laughs)."
Goudeau: Fair enough.
Scott: "That's number one. And I think once we get that done, we'll, I want to have this new division set up and, so that it goes forward because that's part of the new law. And so this is going to be a recurring issue in every federal election, every two years. And I think after that, I'd like to start bringing business to the great state. We've had some incredible, I guess, invitations to come visit some other locations and would love to do that. But I think, first and foremost, it just goes back to if I can leave here and we have better confidence that our election system is safe, it's secure and it's less of a topic in after elections. I think that's that's all I really want to accomplish at the end of the day here."
Goudeau: You know, I want to ask you, though, about your future with the office. Your predecessors, the two past predecessors failed to be confirmed. You had what happened with the voter rolls, which led to the Senate not confirming David Whitley. And then we have Secretary [Ruth] Hughes, who again obviously not asking you to speculate, but there is speculation that because she came and said that the election was safe and secure and that she didn't necessarily push a certain narrative, that is the speculation as to why she was not nominated. Do you have a little bit of a, do you feel some type of way, is there something that you feel about your ability to get confirmed by the Senate in 2023?
Scott: "I think this: I literally had a very happy life before I got the job and I am happy to go back to my old life if that's tomorrow or a month from now or a year from now. I am happy to go back doing what I was doing before. I want to do this job as well as possible. And I have. I don't want to sound like a broken record on that. I really, and I don't want to say I don't care, but there's a part of me that cares more about doing the job right today and letting tomorrow or next month or next year take care of itself."
Goudeau: What does it look like for you to do the job right?
Scott: "I think it's to be fair. I think it's to be impartial. I think it's to make sure that we don't base our report on narratives. We base it on hard evidence. I don't, I know hearsay in court is, I guess, admissible, but basing a report on what somebody's heard, somebody else say, 'That's not going to be what's in the report.' We're going to have a report where it's a four-corner document that's based upon actual facts that are verified. And I think that's what success looks like of this effort."
You can watch Goudeau's full interview with Secretary Scott here:
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