In practice, most American elections are run impartially, but there are few ways to ensure they will be. Model legislation from Election Reformers Network and the Campaign Legal Center introduces guardrails that were found to be lacking in every state.
Why is partisanship such a long-standing issue in our elections, and why is it more important to address now than ever? Election Reformers Network has partnered with the Bipartisan Policy Center to create a primer on this problem, The Dangers of Partisan Incentives for Election Officials.
CLICK BELOW to read ERN’s report on the secretary of state position and how it can be improved:
What are the problems in our system?
- Impacting Electoral Outcomes: Though anti-democratic behavior is rare, a handful of secretaries of state have abused their position to gain an advantage for themselves or their party.
- Affecting Public Trust: The positions held by high-ranking election officials carry a great deal of sway over how the conduct of elections is perceived. Partisan accusations of state officials have often caused damage to trust in the electoral process, escalating to unacceptable threats of violence in recent years.
- Endorsements and Campaign Positions: Few states bar their heads of elections from participating in campaign activity, which may further damage the reputation of election offices as nonpartisan arbiters.
- Professionalism and Career Opportunism: For some, the secretary of state position may be primarily a springboard to higher office. In our research, we find that 40% of state election heads went on to run for higher office; prior to holding the position, a mere 26% had any substantive elections experience.
CLICK BELOW to read our report on how the Canadian model for elections can improve trust in our own:
How do we fix them?
- Ethics Rules: To increase public trust in the democratic process, senior election officials must be forbidden from serving on campaigns, making political endorsements, or using their office as a platform to run for other offices. These officials should take an oath of neutrality and should recuse themselves from conflicts of interest arising from their duties. ERN has developed model legislation to guide states in developing these guardrails.
- Systemic Change: To bring the U.S. up to international standards of impartiality, Congress and the states must enact legislation buffering election officials from partisanship, increasing professionalism, and driving up public trust. How this will look may vary state-by-state. ERN recommends an approach modeled on judicial nominating commissions, in which election official candidates would be shortlisted by a multi-stakeholder panel, for appointment by the governor and confirmation by the legislature. State and federal legislation should also strengthen the authority of this impartial chief election official to administer elections independent from legislative micromanagement.