When Ohio State elections law professor Daniel Tokaji tells colleagues from other parts of the world about how the United States picks election officials, he says they’re stunned. “And not in the good way,” says Tokaji. That’s because in a large portion of the U.S., elections are supervised by an official who is openly aligned with a political party. It’s a system of election administration that’s routinely come under scrutiny over the past two decades, and did again in this year’s midterms especially in Georgia, Florida and Kansas. “Just about everyone recognizes that it’s inherently unfair for the umpire in our elections to be also a player on one of the two teams, Democrat or Republican,” Tokaji says.
Still, that’s how election administration works in much of the country, according to University of North Carolina Charlotte political science professor Martha Kropf, who studies the topic.
At the state level, two-thirds of states elect a chief official, in many cases a secretary of state, who oversees voting. And the vast majority of them are partisans. About half of all local election officials are also aligned with a political party.
“It appears bad, in the same way that gerrymandering appears to be bad on a partisan basis, done by state legislatures,” Kropf says. “Having local officials that are elected on a partisan basis running elections seems fishy.”