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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. McGehee says:

    They should’ve convinced Georgia’s secretary of state to stay put, if she wasn’t going to do better than she did running for the gubernatorial nomination.

    And I say that as someone who seriously thought she’d be by far the more formidable challenger to Sonny Perdue this fall.

    As it is, I think the GOP here has a good chance of picking that one up this year.

  2. Michael says:

    In my Florida county, we use the old-school scantron systems for voting. You color in a little circle next to your selection, which provides your paper trail, and you run it through the scanner. If the scanner catches an over or under vote, it spits it back out and you correct it. During the 2000 recount, our county was one of the only counties who’s recount numbers matched the original numbers. This is decades old technology that just plain WORKS!

  3. madmatt says:

    When you allow the sos to also hold a position so biased as “head of bush for president committee there should be questions raised…especially when massive disenfranchisement of the poorest and weakest seems to be the issue of the day.

    The best way to do sos duties in regards to voting would be a 3 person panel: an electee from each main party and a 3rd member appointed by the current governor but the appointee must be from the opposing party. This is a kind of you cut the cake in two and I pick the piece approach! And it promotes stability in the process.

  4. oldradus says:

    Are you freakin kidding me?? We are already in a bannana republic — have ben for a while. Katherine Harris in Florida, Ken Blackwell in Ohio, on and on … The Repugs have been playing with the vote and thwarting the will of the people since 2000 … now the Dems are getting wise to it and trying to play the same game and you get all upset … “WHHAAAA! Only WE are allowed to cheat!! NOT THEM!!! WWHAAA!!” What a bunch of hippocritical morons y’all are!!

  5. Yeah, darn those darned Republicans! Of course, if you check the dockets, you’ll find that it is actually Democrats that are going to jail for tampering with the sanctity of the vote in Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, …

  6. Anderson says:

    Now we have folks aiming at comtrolling the voting process.

    Right. Because no one at Diebold ever had THAT idea.

    “It stops being funny when it starts being you.”

  7. G A Phillips says:

    oldradus,Dude why, I see That you are curly cue deep in Donkey lore, why people like you will believe 100% pure repetitive meaninglessness I shall never know, dude you have bought into a lie that was spawned by the Jackass collective,Good God how someone like you would come forth and type something that is the perfect example of a hypocritical moron philosophy witch is the platform that your beloved masters call a party as an example of the way that you think others are behaving,lol,lol,lol,lol………….

  8. Trest says:

    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.

    Listen, Bush won the 2000 election fair and square. He needed to start the legal battle in Florida because the Democrats were trying to intimidate vote counters by sending operatives down to South Florida.

    Sure Katherine Harris and Tom Feeney are Republicans, but they are probably the most honest public servants we have seen in the country in generations. Harris has shown her honesty, independence, and integrity as a Congresswoman and is inevitably going to be an excellent Senator.

  9. Michael had the only post on a reasonable solution to the issue. Put the onus for getting a valid vote on the voter. I would also add that making sure it is a valid voter is key.

    As far as madmatt’s idea, would it really be so hard to imagine a person “registering” for the opposition party but it being a scam. Finding a truly independent panel would be nigh impossible. And trying to solve the problem not at its source, but in the contested election faze doesn’t solve the issues James brings up. Finally, not to be to crass about it, but look at the money Soros put up in the last election and see how much he would have had been able to spread around to buy the key vote in all those panels in the swing states, then tell me that all the affected public servants could not have been bought.

  10. Tano says:

    “He needed to start the legal battle in Florida because the Democrats were trying to intimidate vote counters by sending operatives down to South Florida.”

    Huh? What planet are you on?
    It was operatives from Tom Delay’s office that went down to FL and staged the mini-riot in the offices of the vote-counters that brought the recount to a halt. I remeber how the media covered this – buying into the notion that they somehow represented “concerned citizens”. It was only much later that someone bothered to investigate the photo and managed to identify all the participants as GOP House staffers.

    Why you plyin’ these games?

  11. Tano, Your memory differs from mine. The republican ‘protesters” were late to the game. The recount follies were well advanced by this stage. I seem to remember at least one face who I saw standing near Lamont recently who was stirring up some protests before that.

  12. Anderson says:

    Listen, Bush won the 2000 election fair and square. He needed to start the legal battle in Florida because the Democrats were trying to intimidate vote counters by sending operatives down to South Florida.

    Okay, Trest is *definitely* putting us on.

    Sure Katherine Harris and Tom Feeney are Republicans, but they are probably the most honest public servants we have seen in the country in generations. Harris has shown her honesty, independence, and integrity as a Congresswoman and is inevitably going to be an excellent Senator.

    That clinches it beyond a reasonable doubt.