Women Saving Democracy: A Secretaries of State Explainer


A mom and son have a good time after dropping their poll within the drop field at Western Excessive College on Nov. 3, 2020 in Baltimore. The most typical operate held by secretaries of state is to function the state’s chief elections official (J. Countess / Getty Photos)

With a nation as massive as the US, we’ve developed a mess of governmental positions to satisfy the assorted obligations essential to hold the nation going. Ever for the reason that overturn of Roe v. Wade in June, the nationwide gaze has shifted in direction of state-level leadership.

However who’s pulling the levers of energy in states? Whereas the overwhelming majority learn about roles on the federal degree, much less perceive who’s behind operations on the state degree.

Two roles we essential to focus on are legal professional basic and secretary of state. What precisely do these positions entail and why do they matter? (This explainer will cowl secretaries of state; discover our explainer on attorneys basic here.)

Secretary of State 101

The secretary of state is significant to the efficient functioning of state authorities. Not like different state government workplaces, comparable to legal professional basic, solely 47 out of the 50 states even have a secretary of state. Alaska, Hawaii and Utah wouldn’t have the workplace. The secretary of state is elected in 35 of those 47 states (74 %) and appointed by both the governor or state legislature within the different 12 states (26 %).

Duties and Obligations

Responsibilities of the secretary of state fluctuate however, general, administering election legislation is certainly one of their most pertinent duties. They’re sometimes the chief election official, which requires “administering state elections and sustaining official election outcomes.” Moreover, in 23 states, the secretary of state is the receiver and certifier of poll measure petitions. 

Further obligations and areas of oversight embrace:

  • Sustaining official data and paperwork 
  • Commissioning notaries public
  • Working state museums, libraries, or the Division of Motor Automobiles
  • Administering skilled licensures
  • Making ready warrants
  • State capitol upkeep 

{Qualifications} and Wage

There are not any particular work expertise necessities with a purpose to grow to be a secretary of state, however most states do have fundamental necessities such at least age, being a registered voter, and state residency and citizenship necessities. Usually talking, the secretary of state has some expertise in election administration, though this isn’t important. Most secretaries of state have a ardour for voting rights and elections.

The secretary of state is normally a full time job and salary can vary from $70,000 in Arizona to $209,520 in Tennessee. 

Size of Time period

Many states wouldn’t have time period limits for the secretary of state, however 16 do impose some kind of restrict. 

Significance of the Place

In 2022, 27 states are holding elections for the place of secretary of state. These positions are vital as a result of they assist facilitate one of the crucial sacred elements of our democracy: voting. Without the secretary of state, having correct voting tools, receiving ballots within the mail, resolving points on Election Day, and tabulating election outcomes wouldn’t be doable.

Girls Secretaries of State

Just like the position of attorney general, the gender make-up of secretaries of state is way from balanced. Traditionally, there have been a complete of 135 women elected as state-level secretaries of state. Twenty states have by no means had a girl secretary of state. The primary girl and first girl of colour secretary of state was Soledad C. Chacon (D, 1923-26) of New Mexico. At the moment, 11 ladies maintain the place nationwide—that means solely 22 % of U.S. secretaries of state are ladies. 

So as to construct a democracy that works for everybody, ladies and minorities should be represented at each degree of presidency in each place doable. Girls and girls of colour face distinctive challenges in the case of voting. One of the simplest ways to deal with these obstacles is to elect and appoint secretaries of state who’ve skilled the problems firsthand, as they’re probably the most certified to advocate for essential modifications that promote and defend entry to the poll. 

Obstacles Girls Face in Changing into Secretaries of State

As in practically all elected positions, ladies stay drastically underrepresented. Stereotypes and norms result in ladies having to do extra with a purpose to show themselves to voters. This will discourage ladies from working for workplace, particularly in the event that they underestimate their eligibility and electability. Moreover, if ladies don’t see different ladies in workplace, they’re additionally much less seemingly to have the ability to image themselves as holding these positions. This is the reason candidate recruitment and early funding might be vital. 

Critically, systemic boundaries like gender bias in celebration recruitment and PAC funding, and the quite a few points in our winner-take-all election system create an setting utterly stacked in opposition to ladies candidates. We should implement techniques modifications to interrupt these boundaries, and guarantee gender-balanced governance. 

Programs Methods That Construct Illustration

Gender-balanced funding and recruitment targets can assist the difficulty of girls’s underrepresentation in politics and take away boundaries so extra ladies run. Programs options comparable to implementing ranked alternative voting would permit voters extra of a alternative, and reduce the necessity for strategic voting or strategic choice inside events. This may take away boundaries in order that extra ladies can win.  

It’s vital to notice that nobody single structural change will remedy the difficulty of getting ladies to positions of political energy. We advocate for a holistic, reinforcing package of reforms that handle boundaries throughout your complete political lifespan, from working to successful, and serving to main.

Secretaries of state play a crucial function in defending and implementing honest and free elections and are really on the entrance strains of defending our democracy. The importance of this function makes making certain satisfactory illustration on this place of utmost significance.

As you gear as much as vote this fall, we hope this explainer has helped demystify the function of secretary of state and what vital gamers they’re in state-level governance.

Care about U.S. democracy, ladies’s management and honest illustration? We do too. Let Ms. keep you up to date with our daily + weekly newsletters. (Or go back to the “Women Saving Democracy” essay collection.)


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