Capitol Alert

California secretary of state candidates call for borrowing measure

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, right, speaks during a September 2014 debate with Republican think tank leader Pete Peterson, left.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, right, speaks during a September 2014 debate with Republican think tank leader Pete Peterson, left. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The two contenders for California secretary of state both want to ask voters to borrow money to pay for new voting equipment and other election modernization measures.

It’s been more than a dozen years since California voters approved Proposition 41, a March 2002 initiative that authorized $200 million in borrowing for new voting machines. All but about $65 million of the bonds have been issued, with much of the remaining balance spoken for.

Counties around the state, meanwhile, complain that existing voting and ballot-counting machines are old and breaking down. Spare parts are hard to come by, and some systems rely on the long-ago Windows 2000 operating system.

At a debate last Thursday in Berkeley, state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, and Republican Pete Peterson, the director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University, promised that they would push the Legislature to place an election equipment bond measure before voters.

The two also supported having state-funded automatic recounts when there is a close finish in the statewide race. In the June primary for state controller, only 481 votes separated second-place finisher Betty Yee and third-place finisher John A. Pérez out of more than 4 million votes cast. But California law requires the voter requesting the recount to pay for it while allowing them to pick which ballots to recount.

The recount also highlighted California’s decentralized, county-based system of running elections. But Peterson and Padilla disagreed about whether that should be changed to put the state more in charge.

“It may not be the prettiest picture,” Padilla said, adding that he would be “wary of centralizing elections” in California. Still, he said, the secretary of state’s office should take a leadership role on voting and elections.

Peterson said the state needs to do more. “This may sound a little weird coming from a Republican: We do need to centralize a bunch of stuff related to elections,” Peterson said, citing a need to standardize the appearance and processing of vote-by-mail ballots. Some counties also have much more advanced election technology than others, he said.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.

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