The Troubles with Partisan Election Administration
McClatchy Newspapers reports that a Republican county clerk in Colorado has been accused of using the state’s registration laws to suppress student voting, which is expected to heavily favor Democratic presidential nominee Senator Obama. The clerk apparently distributed a flier to the college that said: “What this means is that if your parents still claim you on their income tax returns, and they file that return in a state other than Colorado, you are not eligible to vote or vote in Colorado.” (Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law explains that states and counties cannot adopt rules that one group of voters differently than others). Colorado Democrats also accused another county elections clerk, a delegate to the Republican National Convention, of taking other steps that would dampen voting by college students. That clerk admitted that he “mistakenly published information that was incorrect.” Local election officials in Virginia and South Carolina have similarly discouraged college students from voting. And, in Michigan, Democrats have filed a lawsuit seeking an order barring Republicans from using lists of people facing mortgage foreclosure proceedings as a basis for challenging their eligibility.
The partisan nature of election administration is troubling, both because it has long raised issues of deception to suppress voting and because it lowers the pubic’s confidence in the election process. As election law expert Richard Hasen has advocated, states should replace partisan election officials with a cadres of nonpartisan, professionalized election administrators on the state and local levels of government.