While their powers vary considerably from state to state, secretaries of state have a good deal of influence over how voter ID laws are carried out, who gets to vote early, what areas may or may not have enough voting machines on election day, and who gets to stay on the voter rolls. In a perfect world, all secretaries of state would carry out their jobs competently and without regard to partisan interest. However, all too often that's not what happens. There have been a number of controversies involving secretaries of state in the last few election cycles.
Secretary of state races were largely ignored for years, and they still tend to attract low voter interest. However, both parties have begun to understand how important these elections are. This cycle, the Republicans have a PAC called "SOS for SoS" that will spend millions to try and win these offices in critical states. Democrats have two main committees, "SoS for Democracy" and "iVote." Both sides understand that it is essential to get involved now in secretary of state races now, before it is far too late. As then-Florida Secretary of State Kathrine Harris proved in 2000, these races can often resonate far beyond state lines.
For progressives looking to fight back in the War on Voting, this is the central battleground. This post is designed to help activists target the most important races where we can make the biggest difference. Daily Kos has already made one endorsement on this front, for Ohio's Nina Turner, and we expect to make more. But you don't have to wait for Daily Kos to act. Whether you want to get involved in a race in your state or adopt a candidate in another, this is the place to start.
Head below the fold for a look at the major battles for secretary of state, as well as some others worth watching and getting involved in.
This year 25 states will hold secretary of state elections. In many of these races one party is the overwhelming favorite and there isn't much to see. Some of these contests may develop later, bur right now Democrats look set to hold their seats in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin without too much trouble. The Republicans should be fine in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
For the most part all these states heavily lean to the party that holds them. The exception is Michigan, where Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson looks safe: Godfrey Dillard, the likely Democratic nominee, has yet to report raising any money and does not even have an active website.
However, many other races will be tough and expensive battles that neither party is willing to lose.
Key swing state races:
• Colorado: With an open seat in a critical swing state, this should be a hotly contested contest. Democrats are fielding University of Colorado Regent Joe Neguse, while the Republicans have El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams. Neguse is exactly the type of person Democrats would want leading the elections' division: He has worked to make it easier for students to register to vote. Democrats also see Neguse as a rising star in the party.
Neguse has been the better fundraiser, holding a $209,000 to $84,000 cash-on-hand edge as of the beginning of August. A July PPP poll found Democrats in general lagging in the state, with Williams ahead 35-27. However, neither candidate is well known, and Neguse should have the resources to introduce himself to voters sooner. Big money groups on both sides are also expected to get involved.
• Iowa: Both parties have veteran political figures for this open-seat swing state race. The Democrats have Brad Anderson, who was the director of the Obama campaign's successful 2012 effort in the state. The Republicans are running Paul Pate, who served as secretary of state in the '90s and then as mayor of Cedar Rapids. Anderson has been the better fundraiser so far, holding a $193,000 to $56,000 edge as of early May. Anderson has been adamant about his opposition to voter ID laws, while Pate has been far more supportive of the idea. This is another state race groups are expected to heavily fight for.
• Nevada: Democrats will be defending this swing state post. Team Blue is fielding Treasurer Kate Marshall, who lost a special election for the 2nd Congressional District in 2011. The GOP has state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, who lost a primary for the 4th District in 2012. This is another race where voter ID has emerged as a wedge issue, with Marshall opposing it and Cegavske in support. Marshall has been a much better fundraiser than Cegavske and Nevada Democrats are far better organized than their Republican counterparts. However, with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval poised to win a landslide re-election victory, Team Blue can take nothing for granted.
• Ohio: This will almost certainly be the most competitive secretary of state's contest in the nation. Republican incumbent Jon Husted attracted a good deal of attention in the lead-up to the 2012 election. While Husted couldn't get Mitt Romney a victory in the state, it wasn't for lack for trying: On of Husted's most infamous decisions was to cut back early voting in overwhelmingly African-American areas.
The Democrats are fielding state Sen. Nina Turner to oppose Husted. Turner, who has been endorsed by Daily Kos, has polled competitively with Husted in PPP surveys for the Ohio Democratic Party. However, Turner faces a huge cash deficit, trailing the incumbent $3,135,000 to $741,000 in cash-on-hand as of early August. Republicans are going to fight very hard to keep this coveted office and protect their rising stars.
Many other competitive contests will be held in states that aren't currently viewed as swing states. These races can still very much matter: Secretaries of states can often play a vital role in gubernatorial, Senate, and House races along with a host of others.
Other notable secretary of state contests:
• Arizona: Terry Goddard, a former attorney general and the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is hoping to return to office here. Three Republicans are fighting it out in Tuesday's primary for the right to defend this open seat. Arizona is not yet a swing state but may be moving in that direction, and both parties will want to hold this seat in any case.
• Arkansas: Republican incumbent Mark Martin is running again, and faces a challenge from state Election Commission Chair Susan Inman. This has been a low-key race with neither candidate raising much. However, Martin has been hit by allegations that he illegally claimed too many homestead tax credits.
• Indiana: Republican Connie Lawson was appointed to this post after her predecessor left in disgrace, and she is defending it from Democratic Marion County Clerk Beth White. A win here would give Democrats a statewide officeholder in a state where their bench has languished in recent years. However, as of the end of June, Lawson holds a large $525,000 to $195,000 cash-on-hand edge.
• Kansas: With Republican Gov. Sam Brownback horrifically unpopular, incumbent Kris Kobach can take nothing for granted here. Democrats would love to beat Kobach, who has championed some of the toughest voter ID laws anywhere, and is a likely contender for higher office down the line. Kobach, who has also written many of the major pieces of anti-immigration legislation passed by Republican legislatures in recent years, faces a challenge from former state Sen. Jean Schodorf. Schodorf, a former moderate Republican turned Democrat, has polled very competitively with Kobach in recent weeks: SurveyUSA gave Kobach a 47-41 lead, while PPP had him up 43-38. However, Schodorf does not have much cash available.
• Minnesota: Former state Rep. Dan Severson came close to unseating Democrat Mark Ritchie in 2010, losing only 49-46. Ritchie is retiring this time around, and Severson is again the Republican nominee. The Democrats are fielding state Rep. Steve Simon, who holds a $96,000 to $38,000 cash-on-hand edge as of mid-July.
• New Mexico: Republican incumbent Dianna Duran is running again, and she faces a tough challenge from Democrat Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Toulouse Oliver has a $124,000 to $111,000 cash-on-hand edge here: She has called for online voter registration, while Duran supports voter ID.
All of these are important races. Some may become more or less competitive as we get closer to November, and some additional races could always come into play. No matter what though, Democrats cannot afford to be caught napping and allow Team Red to run the table in secretaries of state contests.