How to Improve State Election Governance (A Summary)

Brief
May 22, 2024
Election Reformers Network

The Problem

Polarization is increasingly straining the American approach to election governance, which gives oversight of elections to partisan elected or appointed individuals in all 50 states. As the conflicts over elections intensify, secretaries of state and election board members face growing partisan pressures. A distrustful electorate is increasingly wary of conflict of interest from those in charge.

In 2022, many candidates ran for secretary of state who refused to acknowledge fully verified and audited 2020 presidential election results, and a few such individuals are now in charge of their states’ elections. Some secretaries of state have made policy decisions that appear to undermine the efficiency and security of their state’s elections – such as leaving the Electronic Registration Information Center – seemingly to appeal to partisan populist sentiment.

Bipartisan state election boards comprised of party-nominated board members also face challenges. Conflicts arise between members' partisan interests and their public duty to approach elections neutrally. With independent now the largest political affiliation, bipartisan boards now longer broadly represent voters.

Voters want change. A 2022 MIT poll found that 78% of voters “support only selecting election officials on a nonpartisan basis.”  ERN's own national polling indicates that 68% of voters agree that “it is difficult to trust the impartiality of an election official elected with support of a political party.”

New Ideas

Election Reformers Network is developing new approaches to election governance designed to reduce conflict of interest and represent a broad range of stakeholders. Leveraging lessons from independent redistricting and judicial nominating commissions, ERN is evaluating new board configurations that could include representatives of: the major parties, the legislature, the judiciary, independents or minor parties, urban and rural election officials, election scholars, and nonpartisan civic groups.

These board models are designed to emphasize election expertise and political neutrality. Structurally, they are informed by key principles of professionalism, neutrality, and accountability (see page 6 below for more detail).

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About Election Reformers Network

ERN advances election innovations that protect democracy from polarization. Drawing on decades of experience at home and abroad, ERN develops model legislation to address long-standing structural problems in the U.S. election ecosystem. ERN is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3).