Model Bill: Ethics Legislation for Senior Election Officials

November 28, 2023
ERN and Campaign Legal Center

Model Ethics Legislation Creating Impartiality and Conduct Requirements for Senior Election Officials

Bill drafted by Election Reformers Network with support from Campaign Legal Center 

Section 1. Purpose

It is the purpose of this act:

(a) to protect senior election officials from growing partisan pressures so they may faithfully execute their duties and serve the best interest of the voters;

(b) to bolster public confidence in elections by assuring voters that no senior election official may use their position to influence an election to the benefit or detriment of any candidacy or party, including their own; and

(c) to safeguard the impartiality of the state’s election administration by ensuring that the conduct of all senior election officials is beyond reproach.

Section 2. Definitions  

In this act:

        (1) “active part in political management or in a political campaign”1 means:

                (A) advising, controlling, directing, managing, representing, operating, assisting, or holding any position (including any unpaid or honorary position) with an authorized committee of an approved candidate or ballot measure campaign or political action committee, or participating in any decision-making of an authorized committee of an approved candidate or ballot measure campaign or political action committee;  

                (B) campaigning for or against an approved candidate or ballot measure, including by making campaign speeches for an approved candidate in elections, distributing campaign literature, or volunteering to work on a political campaign; or

                (C) knowing solicitation, acceptance, or receipt of a political contribution from any person, including by hosting a political fundraising event, inviting others to a political fundraising event, or collecting contributions for or selling tickets to a political fundraising event.

        (2) “approved candidate” means a person seeking political office who has been qualified by the appropriate filing official to appear on the official ballot for a primary, general, or other election.

        (3) “ballot measure” means any law, issue, constitutional amendment, or question that appears on a ballot for voters to decide.

        (4) “ballot measure campaign” means efforts made or funds spent to promote or oppose the placement of, or approval of, a ballot measure before the voters of the state or any local jurisdiction.

        (5) “chief election official” means the highest State official with responsibility for the administration of state or federal elections under state or federal law.

        (6) “election-related conflict of interest” means an official action on the part of a senior election official that the official knows or reasonably should know would likely have a disproportionately favorable impact on the senior election official’s own or their immediate family member’s election to office.  

        (7) “gift” means a payment, loan, subscription, advance, deposit of money, services, or anything of value, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received.

        (8) “immediate family member” means, with respect to an approved candidate, a parent, child, sibling, domestic partner, spouse, spouse or domestic partner of a child or sibling, or parent of spouse or domestic partner.  

        (9) “official action” means a decision, recommendation, approval, disapproval, or other action, including inaction, which involves the use of a public official’s governmental authority.  

        (10) “partisan political activity” means any activity directed at the success or failure of an approved candidate, partisan group, or ballot measure.

        (11) “person” means an individual, proprietorship, firm, partnership, limited partnership, joint venture, joint stock company, syndicate, business or statutory trust, donative trust, estate, company, corporation, limited liability company, association, club, committee, organization, or group of persons acting in concert.

        (12) “political office” means any office to which any approved candidate is to be nominated or elected, but shall exclude any office or position within a political party or affiliated organization.

        (13) “political contribution”:2

                (A) means any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value, made for any political campaign, ballot measure campaign, or individual or entity that makes independent expenditures for political campaigns;

                (B) includes any contract, promise, or agreement, express or implied, whether or not legally enforceable, to make a contribution for any political campaign or ballot measure campaign; and

                (C) includes any in-kind contribution of goods or services made for any political campaign, ballot measure campaign, or individual or entity that makes independent expenditures for political campaigns.

        (14) “political campaign” means any organized effort to influence the outcome of any local, state, or federal election, including activities to promote or defeat any approved candidate or political party.

        (15) “public communication” means any broadcast, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising, internet or social media posting, mass mailing, telephone bank, public speech, or political advertising aimed at the general public.

        (16) “publicly endorse” means to expressly advocate for the election of an approved candidate or the success of a ballot question in a public communication.

        (17) “publicly oppose” means to expressly advocate for the defeat of an approved candidate or ballot question in a public communication.

        (18) “senior election official” means [enumerate all high-level state and local election administrators that should fall within the scope and coverage of this act], including the chief election official.  

Section 3. Prohibited Partisan Activity

(a) A senior election official shall not:

        (1) take any official action that shows partiality or discrimination toward or against any political party, any approved candidate for any political office, or any ballot measure on the ballot of an election over which the senior election official has supervisory authority;

        (2) publicly endorse or publicly oppose or knowingly authorize another person to publicly endorse or publicly oppose any approved candidate for any political office or any ballot measure in an election over which the senior election official has supervisory authority;

        (3) knowingly solicit, accept, or receive a political contribution from a subordinate;

        (4) take an active part in political management or in a political campaign with respect to any election over which the senior election official has supervisory authority;

        (5) knowingly provide false information or make any false statement about voting requirements, voting eligibility, the voting process, election procedures, or election results with the intent to impede or obstruct the exercise of the electoral franchise; the administration of elections; or the seating or swearing-in of elected officials; or

        (6) take any official action to influence or interfere, or attempt to interfere, with the outcome of any election.

(b) Subsections (a)(2) and (a)(4) of this section do not apply to a senior election official with respect to an election for a specific office for which the official or an immediate family member of the senior election official is an approved candidate.  

(c) A senior election official may not engage in any partisan political activity, including for their own campaign:

        (1) while on duty;

        (2) in any room or building used for official duties by an individual employed or holding office in the government or any agency or instrumentality;  

        (3) by using any government resources, equipment, or facilities, including office space, official titles, government vehicles, government employees on duty, government email addresses or stationery, and government office supplies; or

        (4) while wearing a uniform or official insignia identifying the office or position of the election official.

(d) A senior election official whose duties and responsibilities continue outside normal business hours may engage in partisan political activity otherwise prohibited by subsection (c) if the costs associated with that partisan political activity are not paid for with public funds.

Section 4. Election-Related Conflict of Interest

Within one year of the effective date of this act, the [state ethics commission or chief election official] shall promulgate rules governing election-related conflicts of interest, including recusal procedures for a senior election official.

Section 5. Enforcement

(a) The [state ethics commission or state attorney general] shall have jurisdiction to investigate violations of this act according to the procedures of that agency.  

(b) Any person who believes that a provision of this act has been violated may file a written complaint with the [state ethics commission or state attorney general].

Section 6. Penalties

Any senior election official who knowingly violates this act is subject to disciplinary action, including reprimand, reduction in grade, suspension from office, removal from office, or debarment from state employment for a period not to exceed 5 years.

Section 7. Oath of Senior Election Official3

To ensure that every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the state government and the impartiality of the state’s election administration, every senior election official shall take the following oath:

“I, ____(name)____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of ____(name of office)____ to the best of my ability; that I will place loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution and the laws of the ____(state/commonwealth)____ above private gain or party affiliation; that I will not give preferential treatment to any private organization, political party, or individual; and that I will ensure that every party, candidate, voter, and other participant in the election process is treated in a way that is fair and just, so help me God (or so I do affirm).”

Section 8. Severability

If a provision of this act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of the act that can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable.


[1]​​​​ Nothing in this act prohibits individuals from registering to vote as they choose or from contributing money to political campaigns, political parties, or partisan political groups.

[2] This definition should be inclusive of the jurisdiction’s definition of political contribution.​

[3]​​ Only in states where such an oath is permitted under the state constitution.​​


A note about physical safety of election officials and poll workers

Depending on existing criminal codes, some states may wish to add provisions to this bill that would enhance criminal penalties for certain types of threats or harms directed at election officials, poll workers, and related professionals operating polling places or equipment. Reasons to consider these types of provisions are described in this ERN fact sheet. Lawmakers seeking sample legislative language may consider the following:

  • U.S. Senate Bill 3142, which has not passed in Congress but would offer protection for election workers and polling places
  • SB 43, passed in 2023 banning intimidation of New Mexico election workers
  • SB 1131, passed in 2023 allowing California election officials to make their home addresses and phone numbers confidential