Mitigating Secretary of State Conflict of Interest
The United States is unique in the world of democracies in relying on partisan elections to fill the most senior election administrative positions. As a result, chief election officers are often leading members of a competing political party and often compete in the elections they supervise. The resulting conflicts of interest are mitigated by the decentralized nature of our election processes, and by the high ethical standards that generally characterize election professionals in this country. Nevertheless, these potential conflicts can pose considerable risks to citizen confidence in the electoral process.
Election Reformers Network has launched a multi year effort to evaluate the impact of chief election officer conflicts of interest and to develop and implement practical solutions. ERN has substantial pro bono legal research support from the project from the law firm of Ropes & Gray and won a $100,000 grant from the Democracy Fund.
1. State-by-state research to assess the scale and impact of chief election officer conflicts of interest since 2000 and to evaluate the applicability of state conflict of interest laws to election administration-related conflicts;
2. Interviews with chief election officers from both parties, and other stakeholders, to better understand the realities on the ground, to document strategies that have been used to address conflicts, and to seek input on the advantages and disadvantages of possible reforms;
3. Development of a “code of conduct”and model legislation (for example to provide for chief election recusal in certain instances), all with input from, and ideally endorsement by, current and former chief election officers from both parties; and
4. Development of partnerships with relevant reform organizations, academics, legislative leaders in key states, and others for the purpose of enacting the solutions arising from the project.