Ethical Standards for Election Administration: A Report from the American Law Institute (ALI)

Election administrators and their staff, spread throughout thousands of voting jurisdictions in the United States, perform a core service dedicated to maintaining and preserving our democracy. Their work has become significantly more difficult, as our contentious politics have clouded much of what they do with misunderstanding and distrust. These challenges have made clear that election administrators may, and typically do, lack the full range of resources they need.

As election officials gain both increasing  public visibility and scrutiny, it has become increasingly obvious that the time has come for identifying the ethical standards unique to the election administrator profession. It is essential to identify national standards for election officials that provide guidance  in the administration of voting throughout the United States.  It is therefore encouraging to learn that  the American Law Institute (ALI) has provided a forum, released to the public on January 29, 2024, for a working group developing such standards, resulting in a report Ethical Standards for Election Administration

The report sets out seven principles, discussed in detail, along with the basis for each. It is the hope of the working group that these principles provide the professional election administration community with a common vocabulary for communicating the moral underpinning of their work; assist in the training of the next generation of officials; and help guide officials in carrying out their responsibilities when the law does not supply the answer and public scrutiny is keenest. These principles also supply the grounds for specific standards of conduct that reflect these principles and put them into practical effect.

The seven principles identified and discussed in the Ethical Standards for Election Administration report are:

1. Adhere to the law
2. Defend the democratic process
3. Promote transparency in the conduct of elections
4. Treat all participants in the political process impartially
5. Demonstrate personal integrity
6. Promote ethical standards
7. Advance professional excellence

In his recent excellent article in Verdict: Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia, Justice James  McHugh writes:

“The importance of those principles and measures might seem to be self-evident, and perhaps it is, but the report’s focus on the need for administrators to embrace those principles publicly is designed to create a shared national vocabulary about how elections should be run. Creation of that vocabulary, the report suggests, will increase public confidence in the impartial administration of elections. It will also provide new election administrators with tools for ethical decision-making in areas where there are no ready or clear-cut answers when novel problems arise.”


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