No need for a big wind-up here: Democratic incumbent Alex Padilla has by and large done a solid job in his first four-year term as California’s secretary of state and he should be returned to Sacramento for a second term.
Padilla, a former Los Angeles City Council member and state senator, won his first term by promising, among other things, to register more California voters, improve the use of technology in voting, replace the cumbersome Cal-Access database system for tracking campaign contributions and spending, and make it easier for people to vote through early voting and other such programs.
He has managed to deliver on most of those, with 2 million more voters on state rolls now than when he was elected, an increase aided by the rollout of VoteCal online registration and the system created by the 2015 New Motor Voter Act (which Padilla sponsored) that automatically registers eligible voters when they receive or renew a driver’s license. And the new “Voter’s Choice” system that Padilla championed, which allows voters more options for when and how they vote, has been launched in five counties, with more expected to join in 2020 (it’s a voluntary program and not all will adopt it).
The secretary of state’s office also oversees an array of business and corporate filings, but historically has drawn complaints for its slow and outdated processing systems. Under Padilla, the office has moved from paper filings to centralized online registrations and submissions, a more flexible and user-friendly way of doing business.
The successes have been marked by some hiccups. Problems with software at the Department of Motor Vehicles changed the details of 23,000 voters when they renewed their licenses, such as their party affiliations and mail ballot preferences. The fault lies with the DMV, but the issue makes it clear that Padilla needs to keep a closer eye on the system. And the rollout of a new-generation Cal-Access system, which was supposed to have been done in February, now won’t happen until at least late 2019 — and the expected $11.6-million price tag has mushroomed to $23 million.
How much credit or responsibility Padilla shoulders for the advances and stumbles mentioned above varies, but overall he has been an effective administrator and an out-front leader on cybersecurity for California elections and in fighting President Trump’s silly commission investigating voter fraud (which occurs so rarely as to be meaningless).
Conversely, Padilla’s challenger, Republican Mark Meuser, who describes himself as a lawyer practicing constitutional and election law, has focused his campaign on nationwide voter fraud and right-wing allegations that some California counties have more voters enrolled than they do people eligible to vote, which experts say is based on an erroneous understanding of the voter rolls. Meuser is right in his claim that election-related problems undermine public faith in democracy, but hyping spurious allegations of mass fraud does even more damage.