Florida Step One: Get Rid of Its Secretary of State

As I explain in The Voting Wars, in 2000, at the time of the Florida debacle, 33 states chose their Chief Elections Officers (usually, though not always, called Secretary of State) in partisan elections. Katherine Harris, who was Florida’s SOS during the Bush v. Gore controversy, was not only an elected Republican official—she also served as an honorary co-chair of Bush’s election committee in Florida and spent election night at a Republican Party victory party (where the head of the party, Al Cardenas, used her phone to call Gov. Bush when things looked like they were going badly for Bush in the state).

Florida is the only state since 2000 to have abandoned its elected partisan Secretary of State to make things worse: it took the position and made it an appointed one in which the Chief Elections Officer serves at the pleasure of the governor.  It appears that the last SOS appointed by Gov. Scott, Kurt Browning, may have quit because he wasn’t willing to undertake a controversial voter purge at the last minute to remove noncitizens from the rolls.  No problem—the governor just appointed someone who should do that.

So step one Florida should take is the following: it should create a new position: Chief Election Officer.  It should take away all election responsibilities from the Secretary of State, and give considerable power and independence to this new CEO.  The CEO should be nominated by the governor and subject to a confirmation vote of 75% of both houses of the Florida legislature.  This huge supermajority requirement will ensure that the choice will be one acceptable as an honest competent administrator by both Democrats and Republicans.  If the state is not ready to get rid of partisan administrators yet on the local level, it should give more power to the new CEO.

It is a good first step to choose someone whose allegiance is to the integrity of the political process, and not to a particular party or to a particular governor.


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