Your guide to the California secretary of state election: Shirley Weber vs. Robert Bernosky

Two candidates for California secretary of state
California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a Democrat, right, and challenger Robert Bernosky, a Republican, will face off at the polls on Nov. 8.
(Courtesy photos)

In a post-Jan. 6, 2021, America, where election deniers currently hold office across the U.S. as well as here in California, the roll of secretary of state, a referee for election integrity, has taken on a different dimension.

The secretary of state serves as California’s chief elections officer, provides voters with information about ballot measures and statewide candidates, as well as campaign financing and lobbying activity in Sacramento. The agency also oversees business licensing and filings in the state.

Competing for the office are Shirley Weber, 74, a former Democratic state lawmaker and California‘s current secretary of state, and Robert Bernosky, 59, a Republican businessman. Weber finished first among seven candidates in the June primary with 59% of the vote. Bernosky was second among voters, trailing with 18% of ballots cast, earning him a spot in the November midterm election.

For as long as anyone can remember, pundits have used the ‘midterm’ label for elections halfway between presidential elections. But what does it mean?


Who are the candidates?

Weber, a resident of San Diego, taught at San Diego State University, where she worked for 40 years and helped create and lead its Africana studies department. After serving on the San Diego Education Board for nearly a decade throughout the 1980s and 1990s, she was later elected to the state Assembly, representing portions of San Diego County for four terms.

During her tenure as a lawmaker, she was known for her education advocacy and the passage of landmark bills on social justice, including the launch of a slavery reparations task force and a bill that tightened restrictions on use of force for law enforcement officers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed her to the office in 2021 to fill a vacancy created when Alex Padilla left the post for the U.S. Senate. Weber became the first Black woman to serve as California’s secretary of state.

Bernosky is a business executive based in Hollister, Calif., in San Benito County. He has worked as a chief financial officer for various companies, including tech companies in Silicon Valley and in industries such as medical research, food, clothing and semiconductors.

In recent years, his stature has been raising within California Republican Party, representing the Central Coast as regional vice chairperson to the state party between 2016 and 2020, and he also served on the party’s election integrity project.

After two unsuccessful bids for state Assembly and after serving on the Hollister School District Board of Trustees, Bernosky was prompted to run for secretary of state out of concern for voter security following the state’s rocky rollout of the state Department of Motor Vehicles’ Motor Voter program.


Where the candidates stand on voter registration and turnout

For both candidates, voting is personal.

As a young child, Weber and her family fled Arkansas during the Jim Crow era for Los Angeles after a lynch mob threatened her father. Her father and grandfather were unable to vote in the South due to racist voter suppression laws such as literacy tests. In Los Angeles, Weber’s father regularly opened their home as a polling site. She recalled memories as a child, watching her father and brother transform their living on election days, as members of the community streamed in and out.

Weber made it a priority during her short term as secretary of state to promote awareness of the voting rights accomplishments of her predecessors — pre-registration for 16-year-olds, same-day voter registration, and the right for felons on parole to vote — as well as supporting laws such as making permanent the pandemic-inspired policy to send vote-by-mail ballots to every Californian who is registered.

She has toured high school and college campuses, hoping to enliven young voters and is currently engaged in overseeing the California University and College Ballot Bowl in which schools compete to register the most students. Stanford is now in the lead, she said.

For Bernosky, voting has always been an important tradition in his household, with his wife and two children, who are all educators. However, recently, he noticed his children have been skeptical about voting, worried about overall security of the process. During outreach for his campaign he said he noticed similar skepticism and general apathy from voters, many of whom feel as though their vote doesn’t count.

Bernosky hopes to encourage more Californians to vote by making the secretary of state office more accessible and transparent to voters, opening a more robust hotline for the public, as well as sharper messaging and broader outreach for election information.


Where the candidates stand on voter security and election fairness

Although Bernosky praised recent expansions in voter access, he cautioned against possible security pitfalls. He pointed to problems with the rollout of the DMV’s Motor Voter program in 2018, which automatically registered eligible residents to vote when signing up for a driver’s license or state identification. The program incorrectly registered thousands of voters with faulty information, including some who were not eligible to vote, including noncitizens.

A supporter of former President Trump, Bernosky acknowledged the threat of election deniers after pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to prevent Congress from formalizing Joe Biden’s victory but said they do not represent the majority of conservative voters in California.

To erase any lingering skepticism in the electoral process, he said he plans to tighten voter rolls, making sure there are no duplicate names, and enhance the signature verification process.

He also called for prosecution of any individual who attempts voter fraud.

“I just want to remove any doubt about the quality of our elections,” Bernosky said.

Weber assured that her predecessors already audited and fixed issues with the DMV program, which in its first year, registered more than 1 million voters. She said there is room to improve the system of counting votes, which she admitted has its glitches but pointed to the June primaries as proof of a smooth, safe election system.

Around voter security, she said her office has always taken seriously any threats against polling sites and its workers, which are investigated by state and federal law enforcement.


She said some poll workers in communities with smaller populations dealt with verbal altercations and people demanding to count the ballots.

“We’re pretty vigilant in making sure that people are not obstructed from coming in to vote, that they’re not obstructed with regards of putting their ballot in the ballot box, and anyone who does is violating the law,” she said.


Past coverage

In the November race for California secretary of state, the candidates seem to agree on one thing: the need to boost voter registration and turnout.

Oct. 12, 2022

With all the votes tallied, the recall failed by a substantial margin: 61.9% for keeping Gov. Gavin Newsom in office and 38.1% for his removal.

Oct. 22, 2021

Few who have watched Shirley Weber’s eight-year career in the state Assembly will be surprised to see her bring a civil rights focus to the job of California secretary of state.

Feb. 1, 2021

Shirley Weber would be only the fourth woman to ever hold the position of California secretary of state and the first Black woman to do so in state history.

Dec. 22, 2020


L.A. Times Editorial Board Endorsements

The Times’ editorial page publishes endorsements based on candidate interviews and independent reporting. The editorial board operates independently of the newsroom — reporters covering these races have no say in the endorsements.

The L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for statewide ballot measures, elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, L.A. Unified School District board, L.A. county superior court, statewide offices, the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.


How and where to vote

Ballots were to be in the mail to all 22 million registered voters in the state no later than Oct. 10. Californians can return ballots by mail, drop them at collection boxes or turn them in at voting centers. They can also cast ballots early at voting centers or wait until Nov. 8 to vote at their neighborhood polling places.

Californians can register to vote or check their status at

Here’s how to vote in the California midterm election, how to register, what to do if you didn’t get mail ballot or if you made a mistake on your ballot.



Follow more election coverage

California voters head to the polls Nov. 8 to vote for U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, attorney general, and races for U.S. representative in Congress, state senator and state Assemblymember. Local races include who will be the Los Angeles mayor and L.A. County sheriff. There are seven ballot propositions for voters to decide on the table.

In the November midterm election, California is one of the battlefields as Democrats and Republicans fight over control of Congress.


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