Impartial Election Administration

Impartial Election Administration

The U.S. is the only democracy in the world to select most senior election officials through partisan elections, a system that inevitably creates strong allegiances between officials and political parties they must oversee. Secretaries of state, county clerks, and other election officials have generally risen above the partisan affiliations attached to their names to administer elections fairly and impartially, voluntarily adhering to norms of ethical behavior. ⁣But norms are not laws. Less ethical newcomers to the field are winning election posts and effectively promising voters to help their side win. This new reality, coupled with diminishing trust in elections by some voters, points to the need for reforms that enshrine the standards of professionalism and impartiality we all expect in the heart of our democracy. ERN has led the development of ethics legislation and fresh models for broadly representative election leadership, drawn from worldwide best practices, in this new era of American elections.

Features

November 28, 2023
Bill

Model Bills

This collection of model legislation offers a starting point for state lawmakers and advocates interested in drafting reforms to strengthen elections and democratic institutions. Models feature ethics legislation, qualification thresholds for senior election officials, and a task force study bill.

August 23, 2022
Data
Brief

National Poll on Election Administration

We must remove partisanship from election administration, say voters of all political stripes in a national poll commissioned by Election Reformers Network. The survey asked people’s views on our election system and on changes aimed at bolstering voter trust; 71% believe candidates for election official positions should be required to have experience running elections.

February 1, 2023
Brief
Bill

Supporting Election Officials With Ethics Policies

In this hyper-partisan era, states must take steps to ensure that: a) current officials are protected from threats and intimidation; b) future election officials will act impartially; and c) voters are confident that election administrators are doing their jobs without partisan bias. This ERN policy brief addresses how, including model legislation.

December 5, 2023
Bill
Brief

Policy Summary for Model State Election Governance

An example of a possible bill to secure trusted and impartial elections by providing for oversight by an independent state board of elections and election administration by a nonpartisan professional.

November 30, 2023
Bill

ERN and Partners Help Pass Key Michigan Bill to Protect Presidential Elections

With the help of ERN and coalition partners, Michigan became the eighth state, and the second swing state, to pass legislation bringing its laws into compliance with the historic Electoral Count Reform Act (ECRA).

September 1, 2020
Report

Guardrails For The Guardians: Reducing Secretary of State Conflict of Interest

Although most secretaries of state perform exemplary public service, party allegiances built into these positions make the United States a global outlier in election administration and create risks that need to be addressed.

August 7, 2023
News
Brief

Editorials, Op-eds, Polling, and Reports in Support of Impartial Election Administration

As election administration comes under increasing scrutiny from both sides of the political spectrum, an increasing number of researchers, scholars, lawyers, organizations, writers, and editorial boards have come out in favor of the concept of "impartial election administration." 

November 4, 2022

The Atlantic: "The Best Way to Protect Elections From Partisan Manipulation"

Former White House Counsel and Law Professor Larry Schwartztol cited ERN research in his opinion piece on impartial elections for The Atlantic. The article explains that nonpartisan, professionalized election administration is the norm in many other democracies; the American system of allowing partisan politicians to run elections is an outlier.

December 7, 2021
Report
International Resource

Lessons From Canada: Nonpartisanship Works

This in-depth look at the Canadian model of election administration explains how delegating authority to independent professionals overcame widespread fraud and established a system that won the trust of voters.

April 4, 2021
Opinion

The time has come for nonpartisan state election leadership.

Senior election officials often have to balance political party affiliations on one hand and impartial administration on the other. Our nation’s election officials deserve a better system that makes their neutrality and professionalism clear to all sides.

Results Not Found.

Additional Resources

August 31, 2023

In 33 states, the chief election official position is held by the secretary of state (or other state officer) who is elected in partisan elections and takes office with allegiance to a political party. No other democracy in the world selects its most senior election officials this way.

January 15, 2022

The Carter Center joins with ERN to release this joint report on how proven models for impartiality in redistricting and the judicial system can be used to ensure that our election leaders are independent, professional, and accountable.

September 1, 2023

Though implications for the abortion ballot initiative in November have dominated news coverage of August’s Issue 1, the leadership failure atop the state’s election system should not be ignored. Ohio elections need neutral referees just as much as sports do.

March 1, 2022

States have many different models for running elections. This short guide (with map) breaks down where elections are run by an individual (such as a Secretary of State), a board or commission, or a combination of the two.

April 29, 2021

As a result of the decentralized nature of elections in the United States, election administration structures vary greatly state-by-state. In ten states the state-level leadership is the responsibility of an election board or commission. These types of boards, if structured correctly, can reduce concerns about partisanship in election certification processes.

February 1, 2024

In the 2022 cycle, 28 states held elections to select their chief election official (usually the secretary of state). At least 33 candidates for these statewide offices ran while questioning or denying the results of the 2020 presidential election — raising questions about whether they would conduct their work impartially if elected.

January 1, 2020

This groundbreaking Ropes & Gray legal landscape study of U.S states found that few, if any, have adequate legal provisions to constrain partisan endorsements, fundraising or related actions by election officials.

August 30, 2023

“A politicized, partisan secretary of state can completely distort public understanding of a ballot question through their control of the summary language,” says ERN Executive Director Kevin Johnson.

September 12, 2023

Voters need to know that the election system protects them from rogue behavior. Even modest changes in law and practice could go a long way.

September 1, 2022

The election certification process was thrown into the partisan fray in 2020 and 2022. ERN has conducted twin studies aimed at comparing the certification process domestically and abroad so that we can glean best practices and keep this important process neutral.

June 1, 2022

"Americans deserve election officials who, in all aspects of the job, act as unbiased public servants, not partisans, who simply serve the voting public." -- Op-Ed by ERN team members Heather Balas and Amber McReynolds for TalkingPointsMemo.

November 28, 2023

ERN’s model qualifications bill offers a legal pathway to ensure that future chief elections officials bring adequate knowledge and expertise to the job – before they get elected.

February 9, 2024

This model bill provides a template for states to create a task force to research and make recommendations regarding expanded capacity, professional independence in election administration, and dispute resolution.

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