With tight contests brewing for president and control of Congress, there’s no shortage of competitive races over the next 14 months. But a number of offices further down the ballot are also up for grabs, such as the low-profile but increasingly contested position of secretary of state.
Currently, Republicans control 30 seats; Democrats control 20. Most of these positions are officially known as secretary of state, but a few states hand equivalent duties to their lieutenant governor instead. All told, 39 are popularly elected, eight are appointed by the governor and three are appointed by the legislature.
Many secretaries of state have portfolios that include fairly neutral duties, such as overseeing the registration of businesses and lobbyists. But the main reason why they have become coveted and competitive offices in recent years is the role they can play in shaping how elections are conducted. Part of this has to do with the perception that secretaries of state can aid their party in narrowly decided elections.
“Rightly or wrongly, there is a belief that having the party’s secretary of state in office can influence the final outcome in a close race in that party’s favor,” says Republican Trey Grayson, who served as Kentucky’s secretary of state and is now director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. “In many cases, the secretary of state plays merely a clerical role by simply reporting the results that were tabulated at the local level. However, many Democrats blame Katherine Harris for President [George W.] Bush winning Florida in 2000, and many Republicans blame Mark Richie for Al Franken winning the Minnesota Senate recount in 2008.”
But even if a secretary of state’s power to decide elections is overrated, there are other reasons why the parties are interested in winning these races.
Secretaries of state have been key players in advocating their party’s agenda for voting procedures. For Republicans, that usually means pushing tighter regulations, including photo identification requirements for voters and limits on how and where voters can be registered. For Democrats, that can mean loosening such standards, or at least blocking Republican efforts to tighten them.
“A secretary of state has a statewide platform from which to advocate for issues like photo ID or same-day registration,” Grayson says. “A party switch in the secretary of state’s office can result in different issues being discussed in a legislative body.”
Full Article: Electoral Regulations at Stake in 13 Sec. of State Races.