The last time California elected a secretary of state, “Russian interference” was the stuff of spy novels, Facebook was a harmless website where people went to interact with their friends, and only right-wing conspiracy theorists were proclaiming that “busloads of illegals” were “stealing” votes and “rigging” elections.
That was 2014, though, and this is 2018. Times have changed.
More than ever, California needs a secretary of state who will champion objective truth over partisan hyperbole, and will be as committed to enforcing election security as he or she is to expanding the state’s anemic voter rolls. In the crowded field of candidates competing in the June 5 primary, incumbent Alex Padilla is the only serious choice.
A former Democratic senator from Los Angeles, Padilla was elected on promises to modernize the state’s antiquated voting and campaign finance systems, as well as increase voter registration and turnout. He has kept his promises.
Four years ago, for example, California had about 17 million registered voters. Today, that number is closer to 19 million and, by the end of the year, it’s likely to top 20 million thanks to legislation Padilla sponsored that automatically registers eligible voters when they get or renew a driver’s license.
Tens of thousands of high school students have also pre-registered to vote under a separate initiative.
Where Padilla has perhaps made his biggest impact, though, is in making it easier for Californians to actually cast a ballot. Under the newly created Voter’s Choice Act, early voting will last 10 days, there will be same-day registration at vote centers, which will replace traditional polling places, and all registered voters will automatically get a ballot in the mail.
Most counties will adopt the new system in 2020. But Sacramento and four other counties are doing it for the June primary, notably with new touchscreen voting equipment that’s not connected to the web and still spits out paper ballot to thwart the kind of hacking that can taint vote totals.
It's critical that the next secretary of state continue to prioritize election security because the threats of the past few years — both real and imagined — aren't going away.
That is what makes some of the rhetoric from Padilla’s most vocal challenger, Republican Mark Meuser, so disturbing. The Walnut Creek attorney freely traffics in fictitious tales about dead people voting and undocumented immigrants boarding buses and going from precinct to precinct to cast ballots.
Another candidate, Democrat Ruben Major, isn't quite as dramatic with his calls for more paper ballots and fewer contracts with private companies to provide voting equipment. But the paramedic and small business owner from San Diego County takes leaps by insisting big changes are needed to ensure the integrity of California's election system.
And while Meuser’s platform ostensibly focuses on the need to clean up California’s voter rolls, his insistence that elections have been “stolen” goes too far.
It also plays into the hands of the Trump administration, which has continued to argue that there was massive voter fraud in the 2016 election — a claim that has been debunked multiple times.
In short, California needs a secretary of state who will concentrate on solving the problems of reality, including conducting a successful Census in 2020 and continuing to bring voters into the electoral process. Alex Padilla is that candidate.