Democrats Target Secretary of State Contests
A front page story in USA Today notes that there’s a new front line in U.S. politics: contests for secretary of state.
The political battle for control of the federal government has opened up a new front: the obscure but vital state offices that determine who votes and how those votes are counted. The state post of secretary of State was a backwater until 2000, when Florida’s Katherine Harris became a central figure in the presidential recount controversy. Now national Democratic groups and White House prospects, unhappy about Harris’ decisions and those of Republican Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio two years ago, are pouring resources into contests for the job.
At least three Democratic political action committees are spotlighting secretary of State candidates, most of them in states where they expect the presidential vote to be close. Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio top their lists.
Secretaries of State control most voting regulations and influence state purchases of voting machines. Looking ahead to 2008, Democrats say they want people they trust in those offices. “There’s a growing concern about whether votes are cast and, if so, whether they’re properly counted. We have to restore people’s confidence in the system,” says Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a 2008 presidential prospect whose Heartland PAC is helping several secretary of State candidates.
At least four Democrats with presidential aspirations — Vilsack, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Virginia governor Mark Warner — have donated to secretary of State candidates. Among Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain has helped candidates in Michigan, South Carolina and New Mexico; national party Chairman Ken Mehlman also helped out in New Mexico.
Overall, however, the Republican Party is not highlighting these contests. “Our strategic imperative of 2006 is to maintain control of the (U.S.) House and Senate,” national party spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt says. “We’ve got a massive turnout operation designed to help Republicans up and down the ballot.”
OTB roving correspondent Richard Gardner sent me the link. He observes that it,
[b]ecomes a question of “count every vote” versus “count every VALID vote.” Living in a state [Washington] where the last governor’s race was won by 126 votes on the last recount, after a couple thousand “new” votes were found in Seattle – makes me wonder if this isn’t becoming a banana republic. Now we have folks aiming at comtrolling the voting process.
I’m inclined to agree. As in unstable developing world democracies, we have seemingly come to the point where every lost election brings an orchestrated challenge to the legitimacy of the process. The 2000 and 2004 presidential contests, the 2004 Washington governor’s race, the 2004 U.S. Senate contest in South Dakota, and even last week’s McKinney-Johnson Democratic primary come readily to mind as examples.
As our politics becomes more polarized, these charges become more dangerous. Few people understand much about voting laws, survey research, and basic statistics–let alone sophisticated electronic voting machines. It’s easy to confuse them by showing a isolated examples of error, since they have no broader context or evaluation schema in place.
It’s not a far leap from where we are to banana republic.