In recent weeks, two states have engaged in fierce debates over whether or not state election officials can engage in oversight and/or discipline of local election officials:
+ In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has vetoed a series of bills that would have consolidated authority at the state level, including giving the State Board of Election Commissioners the power”to remove a county election commissioner if not qualified or for failure to perform duties.”
+ In Florida, an election reform bill that just passed the Senate on a party-line vote includes a provision that would allow the Secretary of State to put a county election supervisor on “noncompliant status” under state law. That status would allow the state to dock a supervisor’s pay for problems associated with the election process.
What’s especially interesting about both of these bills is that they have generated nearly unanimous bipartisan opposition from local election officials. The concern among the local election officials – who with very few exceptions are elected by their local voters – is that state officials (especially an appointed Secretary of State in Florida) should not have the authority to pre-empt local oversight by engaging in discipline of local administrators.
The counter-argument at the state level is that under-performing election officials can have a serious impact on voters; therefore, state officials need to be able to hold election officials accountable. Such authority does exist in places like Ohio, where the Secretary has the ability to discipline – even remove – members of county election boards, though there the boards are appointed and clearly subordinate to the Secretary under state law.