The selection of a new secretary of state arrives as Gov. Greg Abbott is facing pressure to allow an expanded 2020 election audit in Texas.
HOUSTON — Amid pressure from former President Donald J. Trump to support a broad review of the 2020 election in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday appointed as secretary of state a lawyer who briefly joined Mr. Trump’s challenge to the 2020 results in Pennsylvania.
The new secretary of state, John Scott, will oversee Texas elections at a time when a new law imposing further restrictions on voting and a Republican redistricting plan have raised alarm among voting rights advocates that the state’s growing nonwhite population would not be fairly represented.
More immediately, Mr. Scott, a Fort Worth lawyer who worked for Mr. Abbott when he was the state’s attorney general, will take charge of a limited review of the 2020 election results that Mr. Abbott, a Republican, ordered last month for four of the most populous counties in Texas.
“I am confident that John’s experience and expertise will enhance his oversight and leadership over the biggest and most thorough election audit in the country,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement announcing the appointment.
Though he must eventually be confirmed by the State Senate, Mr. Scott can serve in the role in the interim. The Senate is not in regular session again until 2023.
The appointment brought immediate criticism from Democrats and voting groups. “The timing of this announcement is clearly intended to subvert our democratic process in a way that allows Greg Abbott’s completely unsuitable nominee to oversee our 2022 elections without having to face confirmation hearings,” said Stephanie Gómez, the Texas associate director for Common Cause.
Mr. Scott was among the lawyers representing Mr. Trump’s campaign as it filed suit to challenge the results of the November 2020 election in Pennsylvania, a state that President Biden won by 80,555 votes.
But Mr. Scott withdrew from the case, as did another member of his law firm, Bryan Hughes, on the eve of a hearing, after a circuit court ruling that effectively gutted their arguments. The case was ultimately dismissed.
“The lesson from the Pennsylvania case is that John Scott is a guy you can trust to follow the law,” said Mr. Hughes, a Republican state senator from Tyler, Texas. He added that, while in the attorney general’s office, Mr. Scott represented Texas in litigation over the state’s voter identification law, “so this area of the law is not unfamiliar to him.”
Mr. Hughes was the lead sponsor of Texas’ restrictive new election rules, which passed this year over concerted opposition from Democrats. The new rules broaden the authority of the secretary of state in elections.
No credible evidence has emerged of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election in Texas or in any other state. Mr. Trump carried the state by more than 5 percentage points and Republicans maintained a lock on the statehouse despite a well-funded effort by Democrats to try to flip control.
Still, with supporters of Mr. Trump believing he should have won the state by an even greater margin, Mr. Abbott has faced growing calls for legislation authorizing a “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential vote in Texas. Last month, Mr. Trump wrote a letter to Mr. Abbott urging him to back the legislation.
“Despite my big win in Texas, I hear Texans want an election audit! You know your fellow Texans have big questions about the November 2020 Election,” read the letter, steeped in arcane Texas legislative language and signed by the former president.
Political operatives in the state have suspected that the former president received assistance in his foray into Austin politics by Texas conservatives, perhaps the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who twice chaired Mr. Trump’s campaign in the state. Under Mr. Patrick’s leadership, the Senate has already passed a 2020 election review bill.
Trump’s Bid to Subvert the Election
A monthslong campaign. During his last days in office, President Donald J. Trump and his allies undertook an increasingly urgent effort to undermine the election results. That wide-ranging campaign included perpetuating false and thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud as well as pressing government officials for help.
Hours after Mr. Trump made his Sept. 23 letter to Mr. Abbott public, the governor appeared to respond. The office of the secretary of state issued a short statement saying that a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” had already begun in Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin counties. The first two have become reliably Democratic. The latter two have been trending away from Republicans.
The office underscored that the state would oversee the review, and that no outside contractor would be brought in, as occurred during the recent review in Arizona. That circuslike effort reaffirmed President Biden’s win in the state.
At the time, Texas was without a secretary of state, after Mr. Abbott’s previous appointee, Ruth Ruggero Hughs, resigned in May because of a lack of action on her confirmation by the senate.
The announcement of Mr. Scott’s appointment came a day after Mr. Patrick posted a statement on Twitter urging Mr. Abbott to call legislators back to the capitol for a fourth special session. “House needs to pass an election forensic audit bill,” Mr. Patrick wrote.
Mr. Patrick’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Scott did not return an email and a text seeking comment.
In addition to overseeing elections, the secretary of state is the liaison for the Texas governor on cross-border affairs with Mexico.