A new opinion in The Hill by Larry Diamond, Kevin Johnson and Miles Rapoport revisits the question of non-partisan state election leadership in the U.S. Here is an excerpt:
Two secretaries of state were honored recently by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s Democratic secretary of state, and Kyle Ardoin, Louisiana’s Republican secretary of state, received the organization’s prestigious Patriot Award on behalf of all U.S election officials, in recognition of their public service during the 2020 elections.
Such accolades are very well deserved. Faced with one of the most bitterly contested elections in our history, and confronting death threats, a pandemic and frequent legal changes, most of America’s secretaries of state performed heroically.
One way to honor their heroism would be to fix an increasingly untenable contradiction with which secretaries of state are forced to reckon. On the one hand, they need to administer elections as impartial referees, maintaining a neutral distance from all competing candidates and political parties. On the other hand, to gain the position – and to stay in it – they need to be players on one of the teams on the field, building the political profile and party allegiances necessary to win statewide primary and general elections. In 33 of the 50 states, the position of secretary of state is filled in a partisan election and may provide a springboard to higher office.