Elections should not be supervised by partisans
The primary responsibility of the Colorado Secretary of State is to make sure elections are fair, and the right of citizens to vote is protected. When the holder of the office is a party functionary dedicated to advancing the party’s positions — and his or her own status in the party — a conflict of interest is almost inevitable.
With Scott Gessler apparently acting as a Republican Party operative inside Colorado state government, now might be a good time for Colorado voters to consider taking politics out of the Secretary of State’s office.
As explained in model legislation developed by the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington, D.C., “When states turn control of their elections to partisan and elected politicians, usually the secretary of state, they create a conflict of interest that is tolerated in almost no other modern democracy.”
The 2005 Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform “focused on the full gamut of electoral-related problems, but a central piece is the management of elections.” The commission’s recommendations are the basis for the CDEM model legislation.
The CDEM model recognizes that some secretaries of state do their best to administer elections fairly. However, as the model legislation points out, “Even people in such a position who try to perform their duties in an unbiased way fall victim to the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Unfortunately, the appearance of impropriety can be just about as destructive of public confidence in elections as actual malfeasance.
Democratic legislators charge that Geesler has politicized the Secretary of State’s office by attempting to implement registration and voting policies that favor Republicans. Many of the schemes Geesler advocates have been enacted in states where Republicans control both the governorship and the Legislature.
The ultimate source of many of these plans to erect barriers to potential Democratic voter registration, and suppression is the increasingly notorious American Legislative Exchange Council. Funded by the Koch Brothers and other large corporations, ALEC promotes corporate-friendly state legislation by providing legislators with model legislation to be introduced under their own names.
Gessler demonstrated his contempt for conflict-of-interest rules before he took office. Complaining that his new state salary of $68,500 was inadequate, he announced he would do contract work for his old law firm. The specialty of the firm was election and campaign issues, its clients mostly Republicans.
Gessler was dissuaded from moonlighting, but that did not discourage him from attempting to use his office to advance the interests of the Republican Party.
Gessler’s attempts to purge the voting rolls of “fraudulent voters” that only he could discern, make registration more difficult for potential Democratic voters and enact new picture ID requirements have alarmed and frustrated Democrats since Gessler took office.
After Gessler persuaded a House committee to kill a bipartisan Senate bill enabling county clerks to send mail ballots to registered voters who did not vote in the last election, Democratic patience ended and tempers flared.
“If Scott Gessler is unwilling to fulfill his duties as a non-partisan election officer, the people of Colorado should consider all avenues necessary to remove him as Secretary of State,” a press release from state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said.
The only way for Democrats to remove Gessler would be a recall election. Should that happen, regardless of which party won the election, the people of Colorado would lose.
Further politicization of the Secretary of State’s office will simply perpetuate the problem. The next rogue Secretary of State might be a Democrat.
The primary question should not be which party will control the office of Secretary of State after the next election, but how to ensure that elections are conducted under the supervision of an impartial authority.
The Carter-Baker Commission recommends states “create a statewide Independent Election Commission” under the leadership of a chief elections officer, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. It’s aim would be to implement reforms “aimed at making election administration non-partisan, professional and impartial.”
Only election oversight administered independently of party influence can diminish the appearance or reality of partisan manipulation of Colorado elections.