Adversarial Election Administration

54 Pages Posted: 8 May 2023 Last revised: 30 May 2024

Date Written: August 6, 2022

Abstract

As Americans, we are conditioned to believe that involving partisans in the administration of elections is inherently problematic. Understandably. The United States is a major outlier; virtually every other developed democracy mandates nonpartisan election administration. Whether on the left or right— especially since the 2020 election—we are barraged with headlines about actual or feared partisanship on the part of those who run our elections. What this narrative misses, however, is a crucial and underrecognized fact: by design, partisans have always played central roles at every level of U.S. election administration. What is more, partisans are baked into the U.S. election process for lofty reasons. Placing rival partisans in the election process increases transparency, enhances accountability, and (in theory) improves public trust in outcomes. Rival partisans populate election administration for the same reason we rely on the adversarial process in court: adversarialism leads to outcomes in which members of the public are more likely to abide. As with the justice system, adversarial election administration is not a perfect formula. But the better we understand the mechanisms of rival partisanship in election administration, the better our chances of improving them. This Article takes on this task, examining the history of adversarial election administration in the United States, describing how adversarial actors function in modern U.S. elections, and suggesting how states might better leverage adversarial election administration to bolster transparency, boost accountability, and secure election outcomes voters can trust.

Keywords: election, election administration, partisan, partisanship, local election official, chief election official, conflict of interest, nonpartisan election administration, trustworthy election, voter confidence

Suggested Citation

Green, Rebecca, Adversarial Election Administration (August 6, 2022). William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-461, North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 101, 1077 (2023), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4292233

Rebecca Green (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States
(757) 221-3851 (Phone)

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