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Lawmaker proposes making California secretary of State post nonpartisan

ElectionsPoliticsLaws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeJeff GorellU.S. CongressDebra Bowen

SACRAMENTO--The office of secretary of State would be stripped of partisan affiliation under a new proposal by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo).

Gorell is pushing a new constitutional amendment that would make the job of elections overseer a nonpartisan office. It would also transfer the duty of crafting the title and summary of ballot measures from the attorney general's office to the secretary of State.

"People go into the booth to elect the secretary of State they believe will divorce themselves from politics, divorce themselves from partisanship, and be honest, trustworthy and objective in not only counting the votes, certifying the election, but enfranchising voters throughout the state of California regardless of party," Gorell said at a news conference Thursday.

Gorell said he had no specific complaints on how current Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat, or her predecessors have handled the job. But he pointed to instances elsewhere in the country where actions by elections officers appeared to have a partisan tilt, such as decisions made in Florida during the 2000 presidential election by then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican.

"These are the kind of decisions that should be made by a nonpartisan office. These are the kind of decisions that voters should see being made by someone who hasn't already associated themselves with a political party," said Gorell, who is running for Congress this year.

He noted that many California voters themselves were increasingly moving away from political parties. Making the secretary of State post nonpartisan, he said, was consistent with other recent electoral reforms, such as redistricting and top-two primaries, that try to diminish the influence of parties.

Gorell was joined by former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, a Democrat from Santa Cruz, and former Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a Republican-turned-independent, in announcing the plan. Also attending in support were two current candidates for the secretary of State post: David S. Curtis, of the Green Party, and Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who is running as a nonpartisan. 

Schnur compared a party-affiliated secretary of State to an umpire wearing a team's jersey while officiating a game.

"The chief elections officer shouldn't be suiting up for either party," Schnur said. 

The proposal requires two-thirds support in the Legislature in order to be presented before voters on the November ballot. If approved, it would be in effect for the 2018 secretary of State race.

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melanie.mason@latimes.com

@melmason

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