The United States is global outlier in using partisan processes to select its most senior election officials.
Chief election officers, known as the secretary of state in most states, are usually leading members of a political party and often compete in the elections they supervise. The potential for conflicts of interest is mitigated by ethical standards among chief election officers and by our decentralized election structure. Nevertheless, these conflicts can pose risks to voter confidence and the integrity of the electoral process, particularly in close elections.
The 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election re-opened debate over this issue and led to calls for change. In response, Election Reformers Network has launched the first-ever comprehensive research initiative to evaluate the partisan track record of secretaries of state, which provides insights on reforms that would close conflict of interest loopholes.
This report, Guardrails for the Guardians: Reducing Secretary of State Conflict of Interest and Building a More Impartial U.S. Election Administration, was funded by a grant from The Democracy Fund and supported by pro bono legal research from the law firm of Ropes & Gray. Current and former secretaries of state from both parties have provided input on the design of the research, as has the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Drawing on its roots in international election monitoring and democracy support, ERN has conducted a balanced, neutral, and knowledgeable assessment of these issues.
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