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Elections officials seek to continue partisan activities

Associated Press  04 February 2005

WASHINGTON - Elections officials agreed Friday to send a message to voters that they conduct fair and impartial elections despite any partisan ties, prompted by proposed legislation to ban the officials from political campaigning.

The draft position from the National Association of Secretaries of State still must be approved by the full group. It holds no force of law, but comes after legislation to ban campaigning by state elections officials was introduced in Congress and some state legislatures, including Ohio.

Complaints about the political involvement of secretaries of state started after Florida's disputed presidential election in 2000 and continued last year when Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell served as an honorary Bush campaign co-chairman in the state that clinched the Republican's re-election.

All Ohio Republican officeholders were considered co-chairmen, and previous Ohio secretaries of states of both parties also have held similar positions in past presidential campaigns.

"We've got our own solutions, but let's make a strong statement to Congress so they don't monkey with our business," said Chris Nelson, a Republican secretary of state in South Dakota.

Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said it hurts democracy for voters to have a perception that elections officials aren't playing fair.

"It's a tricky issue because I'm a partisan. I'm a Democrat. I run on Democratic issues," Markowitz said. "But I do think that we need to address this."

Blackwell wasn't present at Friday's meeting because of scheduling conflicts, spokesman Carlo LoParo said.

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