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Comparative Assessment of Central Electoral Agencies

Appendix B – State and Local Government Administration of US National Elections: Radical Decentralization?

Virtually every aspect of the national voting process – eligibility to vote, registration, the location of polling places, design of the ballot, voting technology, methods of counting, rules for recounts and methods of resolving complaints – are handled locally and vary widely from one state to another and even among local jurisdictions within states. The local officials who oversee the elections are chosen in a variety of ways, including being elected. Variation in the size and organizational capacity of local jurisdictions means that the professionalism of election officers is uneven (Kimball and Baybeck 2013; Burden et al. 2010). Contracting out the actual conduct of elections to consulting firms is a widespread practice.

There is state supervision of the local electoral process in the form of a state secretary or an electoral board or commission.Footnote 37 In 33 states, the state secretary, who serves as the chief electoral officer, is elected, and he or she becomes part of the political executive working with the governor. For states that rely on electoral boards or commissions, the members are usually appointed by the governor on a bipartisan basis, and this gives a political advantage to the majority party.

The authority of these election officers varies significantly state by state.Footnote 38 The mandate of state election officers is generally to promote integrity and public confidence in the election process, but because they are elected or politically appointed, when controversies arise, their neutrally can be challenged.

Footnote 37 See Hasen 2005, 975–76 for a table showing the arrangements for all states.

Footnote 38 For a detailed review, see Benson 2008, 361–81.