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Are elected secretaries of state inherently conflicted?

Following up on Kevin Johnson's Election Dissection post Tuesday about the dangers of politicizing election fraud investigations, it's a good time to highlight the Election Reformers Network's comprehensive report examining how the presence of elected secretaries of state can undermine confidence in the vote. Secretaries of state need to be umpires, not players, in the elections they supervise, the report says.


Johnson and his colleagues Larry Garber, Edward McMahon and Alexander VanderKlipp laid out the conflicts of interest involved in the American system in which 33 states elect their chief elections officer. No other industrialized democracy has its elections run by a politician rather than an official who doesn't have a stake in the outcome of the vote. Secretary of state is often one of a handful of statewide elected posts, and many office-holders end up running for higher offices like governor or attorney general. They often endorse political candidates in elections they are supervising, act as a co-chair for presidential candidates or show up at things like party fundraisers.

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The five secretaries of state who are currently running for office should recuse themselves from any decisions that could appear to influence the election, the analysis says. For the 2020 election, Johnson and his co-authors are urging secretaries of state to observe strict neutrality in the weeks leading up to Nov. 3. They shouldn't attend campaign events, engage in fundraising or electioneering, or publicly endorse candidates. In all ways, they should put the voters first during the pandemic, the report says.

You can read the executive summary here and their policy recommendations.

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