American democracy is exceptional for many reasons. One of the most concerning but least understood is that partisan, elected officials run our elections. Instead of having nonpartisan, professional election administrators — the norm in most other democracies — self-interested politicians dictate the rules of the game. Elections should be won on ideas, not election rules. Having election officials dictate the rules for the very elections where they are on the ballot is like allowing an umpire in a baseball game to hit cleanup for his or her preferred team while also calling balls and strikes. Three secretaries of state are running for higher office this year while still administering the elections where they appear on the ballot. Republican Brian Kemp of Georgia and Republican Kris Kobach of Kansas are both running for governor in their respective states while also serving as secretary of state. Ohio Secretary of State Republican Jon Husted of Ohio is running for lieutenant governor. These officials have used their offices to promulgate rules that could affect their elections.
The latest partisan abuse has come from Georgia’s Kemp, whose office on Sunday indicated that it had opened an investigation into state Democrats for “possible cyber crimes.” Even if there is any merit to the allegations — and it’s impossible to know from the secretary of state office’s brief statement, though indications are that it’s actually Kemp’s office that has been lax in the security of its system — it is highly improper for a politician to use his official office to attack his political foe in this way, all while in a heated race for the state’s top job.
This action follows Kemp’s office potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters by placing their registrations in a “pending” status because the voter registration forms did not “exactly match” other information in the state’s databases, such as when a last name had a hyphen on the voter registration form but not in the DMV database. The rule disproportionately affects racial minorities, which is particularly concerning given that Kemp is running against Stacy Abrams, who seeks to become the nation’s first African-American female governor. A court last week ruled that Kemp must allow thousands of these individuals, flagged for potentially being noncitizens, to vote if they can prove their citizenship at the polls.