“State Election Chiefs Should Be Umpires, Not Players”

This is a good piece on an under-discussed election reform issue. One reason it’s good is that it’s not all doom and gloom, and recognizes positive developments in this area. The piece also offers a new institutional reform for this issue.

From Governing:

While the track record of secretaries of state during the last 20 years shows that partisan acts have occurred frequently, it also gives reason for optimism. A growing share of secretaries are entering the position with election-administration backgrounds rather than as career politicians. And this year Republican Spencer Cox of Utah, who as lieutenant governor oversees elections in the state, voluntarily recused himself from managing campaign complaints while he runs for governor. . . .

Most importantly, many secretaries of state have demonstrated significant impartiality in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Sixteen out of 23 Republican secretaries pushed to expand voting by mail during primary season, advocating in several states for all registered voters to receive absentee ballot applications.

Some states have considered electing secretaries of state without party affiliation, but the track record of such nominally nonpartisan elections for judges is not encouraging. A better alternative is a multi-stakeholder commission, akin to a judicial nominating committee, to propose chief election official candidates for appointment by the governor and approval by the legislature.

The argument that partisanship cannot be kept out of election administration is refuted by the many democracies around the world that have developed effective impartial systems. For this precarious American election, we are depending on secretaries of state to overcome the bias built into their jobs and perform impartially. And then we should change this system so there’s no longer a bias to overcome.


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