Who runs America's elections?

FILE PHOTO: View of the White House
·2 min read

(Corrects to remove a reference to Delaware as the only state where the chief election official is not called the secretary of state. There are 10 states where the top election official has a different title.)

By Linda So

(Reuters) -The United States has a decentralized election system with wide variations in the way voting is run state to state, or even within the same state.

The practical administration of an election – from registering voters to organizing local polling places and counting ballots – is typically handled by counties, cities and towns. This is often done through a body known as a board of elections or commission of elections. In some small jurisdictions, the operation may be run by a single person.

Polling places on Election Day are usually staffed by temporary, paid workers who answer questions, verify IDs and guide voters through the process of casting their vote. In November, for instance, more than 4,000 people worked at polling sites across Georgia’s Fulton County, a region of about one million people. Several hundred were full-time county employees, but the rest were hired temporarily at a flat rate of between $235 to $405, depending on the position, to perform tasks such as check identification, according to the county.

In a 2017 report, the federal U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that 65% of jurisdictions across the country reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” in the 2016 election to recruit enough poll workers. The pandemic exacerbated that problem last year. To address it, some states such as Maryland opened fewer polling places.

State governments play other roles, setting election-related rules, such as mail-in ballot requirements, and making sure they’re followed. State election officials run voter registration databases, test and certify voting equipment, and sometimes buy voting machines used across their state.

Twenty-four states – from Georgia to California – have an elected secretary of state as the chief election official, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). In some states, the elected lieutenant governor is the chief election official. In others, the chief election official is appointed by the legislature or governor.

The federal government’s role has traditionally been minor but was expanded after the disputed 2000 presidential election to include setting standards for how elections are run. That includes, for instance, setting rules on the use of provisional ballots for people whose eligibility is questioned and advising states how to maintain voter registration databases. Other functions include providing money for voting equipment, helping states recruit poll workers and monitoring foreign interference.

(Reporting by Linda So; editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)

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