In state politics, the most enviable marker of power is the so-called “triplex.” To achieve a triplex, a political party must sweep the state’s three most influential offices. The first two are the governor and attorney general positions, the former due to extensive executive powers and the latter due to their power to sue the federal government. But it is the third and most frequently overlooked member of the triplex who may have the most influence over democracy: the secretary of state. The duties of the secretary of state encompass serving as the state’s chief election official, along with such administrative duties as permitting and business authentication. Because of their role in the electoral process, secretaries of state have critical influence over who can vote and how easy it is to do so.
“A chief election official must do three things: make sure only eligible voters vote, make sure every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote, and make sure that every eligible voter meets convenience at the polls and during the registration process,” said Jason Kander in an interview with the HPR. Kander, who served as Missouri’s Secretary of State from 2013 to 2017, is the founder of the voting rights group Let America Vote.
As the nation enters a divisive debate over voting rights and alleged voter fraud, these officials may be the last line of defense against laws that disenfranchise American voters. Yet not all secretaries of state have taken up this mission with verve. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, said in an interview with the HPR that “in a perfect world, all secretaries of state would be dedicated to ensuring that the franchise is as widely available as possible and is fair. So often now, that is not the orientation of many secretaries of state.”
Thus, the outcomes of the 26 secretary of state elections in 2018 are poised to have direct effects on elections to come. A look at some of the key races in the coming year indicates that Democrats are on track to seize back the secretary of state office in several critical states, potentially permanently altering the electoral landscape in the process.