Those who oversee the voting process in states are usually fair, even though they may be active in a political party. And in fact, a spokesperson for the National Association of Secretaries of State finds, "We are seeing that this year more and more secretaries are steering away from heavy involvement with the parties. They understand the perceptions that creates."
Unfortunately, suspicions remain high after the 2000 election dispute in Florida that secretaries of state who actively campaign for others can't always be trusted to run honest and open balloting.
In Missouri, the current secretary holds a key position in the state's Bush-Cheney campaign. Ditto for Michigan's secretary. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch didn't endorse a Missouri candidate for that state's job, noting the individual had "engineered the Republican capture of the Missouri House in the 2002 election." The Oregonian newspaper, in endorsing a Democrat for secretary of state, noted the candidate's "partisan sparring."
Some secretaries are on the defensive because of lawsuits over ballot issues. In Ohio, a federal judge ordered the Republican secretary of state (who's also running for governor) to count provisional ballots filed in the wrong precincts. And that secretary has directed election workers to reject voter registration applications that aren't printed on a certain grade of paper. Democrats cry that amounts to voter disenfranchisement.
In Florida, the secretary faces at least seven lawsuits. And the state's high court said this week that provisional ballots cast at the wrong precinct can't be counted.
States need to set limits on the involvement of secretaries of state in the campaigns of others. Appearances count, just as every vote should.