Secretaries of state drawing political fire

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Election Day is creeping closer, which means we’re due for some fights over voter rolls in battleground states. And right on schedule: Terri Lynn Land, Michigan’s Republican secretary of state is under attack for programs that, opponents charge, could potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advanced Project, a liberal group, filed a lawsuit against Land, challenging two programs the groups say will purge students and low-income voters (read: Democratic supporters) from registration lists. One program removes voters who obtain driver’s licenses in other states; the other removes voters whose original voter identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable.

Unlike famous (or infamous) secretaries of state of yore like Katherine Harris of Florida or Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio, Land does not work directly for her party’s nominee. (Harris and Blackwell were both co-chairs for President Bush’s campaigns.) But while she may not sit in on campaign conference calls, she certainly knows people who are. Her longtime political consultant, John Yob, now serves as a deputy political director the McCain campaign. Yob wrote Land’s campaign plan and TV ads for her 2002 race and earned more than $40,000 as a consultant for her 2006 reelection campaign.

Land is not the only secretary of state kicking up controversy. Jennifer Brunner, the Democratic secretary of state who replaced Blackwell in Ohio, rejected scores of voter registration forms distributed by the McCain campaign. The forms included an optional check box that asked voters to confirm their U.S. citizenship, which some voters left blank.

Both controversies underscore the fact that the job of secretary of state is of increasing electoral importance and has become something of a political stepping stone. Look at Land herself. In 2006 the Secretary of State Project (a 527 PaperTrail profiled recently) tried to unseat the Michigan pol. She survived and now she’s being touted for something even bigger: the GOP’s candidate for Michigan governor in 2010.

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