Iowa was one of the few states that saw voter turnout increase in 2012. Brad Anderson is proud of the role he played in encouraging turnout there as state director of President Obama’s campaign. Now he’s running for secretary of state, which would put him in charge of overseeing elections. “I have a plan to make Iowa No. 1 in voter turnout,” Anderson says. The fact that a former Obama operative wants to run elections makes some people nervous. But he’s part of a trend of overtly partisan figures running for a job designed to be neutral when it comes to election administration. No fewer than three superPACs have been formed in recent weeks — two on the left, one on the right — with plans to spend millions of dollars this year influencing elections for what used to be a low-profile post in most states.
The reason is obvious, says Rick Hasen, who teaches law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, and writes the influential Election Law Blog.
“Since 2000, it’s been clear to political operatives that in very close elections the rules and the implementation of the rules for running elections can make a difference,” says Hasen. “It’s not surprising we see competition over the office that has the most control over those rules and, especially in battleground states, this trend is likely to continue.”