McPherson was appointed to the job last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after his predecessor, Democrat Kevin Shelley, resigned in a fundraising scandal.
State Sens. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey) and Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) haven't raised enough money to do a lot of campaigning. Bowen is hoping her endorsement by the state Democratic Party will boost her chances with voters.
The secretary of state is California's chief elections officer, though elections are conducted by registrars of voters in each county. The office also provides information from campaign and lobbyist financial disclosures, charters corporations and oversees the state archives.
Both Democrats have pledged to give the office a higher profile. Ortiz, 49, said her vision was to fashion it into a public watchdog for voting rights. In the Senate, she has favored more enforcement money for the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the state's campaign finance laws.
She advocates public financing of political campaigns, a position Bowen shares.
Ortiz also favors exploring ways to make voting easier, including more opportunities to cast ballots by mail and centralized polling places so people can vote near work.
Bowen, 50, has been the most vocal in challenging McPherson on a variety of issues involving state certification of electronic voting systems.
Bowen has used her position as chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee to castigate McPherson for certifying voting systems vulnerable to hacking and for, in her view, dragging his feet on reinstating thousands of voters who inadvertently left identifying information off their registration forms.
She is carrying a bill to outlaw so-called bounty programs, in which petition and voter registration solicitors are paid for each signature, to eliminate the financial incentives that she says can breed fraud. She has another bill that would require those circulating initiative petitions to declare who is paying for their signature-gathering.
Besides McPherson, those running unopposed in their primaries are Margie Akin for the Peace and Freedom Party, Forrest Hill for the Green Party, Glenn McMillon Jr. for the American Independent Party and Libertarian Gail Lightfoot.