New ERN Poll Finds Voters Want Changes to Ensure Elections Are Run Impartially
Polling shows strong support for rules requiring that chief election officials are qualified and free from close party ties.
More than four in five voters, including large majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, say it’s very important that election officials act impartially, according to a new nationwide survey commissioned by Election Reformers Network (ERN) and released Tuesday.
The poll, which surveyed 1,498 likely voters, also found high levels of support from across the political spectrum for new rules that could significantly reduce fears of election subversion.
Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that voters:
Place significant value on having election officials act impartially;
Aren’t satisfied with the level of impartiality that currently exists;
Want election officials to meet minimum qualifications before taking office;
Support new rules limiting partisan activities by election officials.
The findings come at a time of widespread concern about partisan ideologues gaining power over, and potentially subverting, state election systems. Swing states Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania, as well as several other states, are at risk of having secretaries of state who deny the results of the 2020 presidential election. In addition, recent polls have found high levels of distrust in elections, and threats and intimidation against election professionals have been rising dangerously.
“In these hyper-partisan times, letting politicians run our elections does enormous damage to voter trust, and could even put fair results at risk,” said Kevin Johnson, ERN’s Executive Director. “These findings make clear that states can rebuild that trust by increasing impartiality and professionalism in election administration.”
Like other surveys conducted since the 2020 election, the ERN poll found stark disagreement along ideological lines about U.S. elections. For example, more than two-thirds of very liberal respondents are very confident elections are conducted fairly, a view shared by only 16% of very conservative voters. But on the importance of impartial election management, ERN found remarkably strong and broad agreement: 82% of very liberal voters, and an identical 82% of very conservative voters, said it’s very important that election officials act impartially. (The survey defined election officials as the chief administrators at state and county levels, which in most states are the secretary of state and county clerk.)
Similarly, 83% of very liberal voters and 88% of very conservative voters said it’s very important that election officials show fairness to all candidates, regardless of party. And large majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents all said it’s difficult to trust the impartiality of election officials who are elected with the support of a party.
“The truth is, most election officials in our country are fair, honest, and diligent,” said Heather Balas, ERN’s Vice President of Programs. “But the structure through which they are selected opens the door for doubt by voters.”
The survey found strong support for tougher rules to ensure impartiality and competence. Clear majorities said election officials should not be allowed to raise money for other candidates, or oversee decisions that could impact their own re-election. A large plurality said they shouldn’t be allowed to endorse or oppose candidates for other offices. And more than 70% said election officials should be required to have some experience running elections.
“Voters support changes to ensure that election officials are qualified and impartial, allowing for fair, secure, and accessible elections,” said Balas. “We need states to pass statutory reforms that protect ethical election officials from being peppered with requests to endorse or fundraise for other candidates. Those same reforms would protect voters from bad actors who might not adhere to the historic norms of impartiality in the field.”
Currently, every state chooses its chief election official through a partisan process. Few states meaningfully restrict partisan activities in office by election officials, including secretaries of state and county clerks. Nor do states require candidates for these offices to meet minimum qualifications, such as experience administering elections.
Model ethics legislation prepared by ERN and the Campaign Legal Center would bar candidates from taking common partisan steps that make them appear more beholden to their party than to voters. And ERN’s model qualifications legislation would ensure that candidates for state chief election officer have relevant experience — a requirement that would have kept almost all of this cycle’s election-denier secretary-of-state candidates from running.
“While voters are intensely divided about whether past elections were conducted fairly and accurately, they are united in their desire for impartiality by election officials,” said Johnson. “The state legislative solutions we recommend build on this common ground, bring the U.S. closer to international democratic norms, and lower the temperature around election administration. Together, we can strengthen voter trust.”
About the poll:
This national survey was conducted on behalf of ERN by the independent firm, Research & Polling, Inc. The online poll was completed by a weighted sample of 1,498 highly likely voters between August 6-15, 2022. Additional method details are presented in the survey summary report.
Election Reformers Network (ERN) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, public policy organization founded in 2017 by election experts with extensive experience in the United States and overseas. ERN creates and advances reforms that secure elections against partisan manipulation and bolster voter trust.