Technology is the future of California elections and nowhere is this more apparent than in the office of California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla.
Delivering a keynote speech at the 2016 Metro Chamber State Legislative Summit at the Sutter Club last Thursday morning, Padilla gave an overview of what he has been doing in his new capacity since he was first elected 13 months ago.
“I came in with a strong set of priorities and an overall vision of the issues I wanted to tackle, but I had no idea what I was coming up against,” said Padilla to approximately 150 guests.
Padilla touched on the responsibilities of his new role which primarily include elections oversight, custodian of the State Archives, an overseer of business filings and a tracker of campaign finance and lobbying activities, among other duties.
Just last week, Padilla partnered with MapLight, a 501(c)(3), nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in politics, to launch a new independent expenditure search tool that will allow citizens and journalists to easily track the source, recipient, and amount of California state-level independent expenditures from 2001 to the present.
The tool will be added to PowerSearch— the California Secretary of State’s open source campaign finance search engine, developed by MapLight.
Padilla said the partnership will be fruitful.
“Working with MapLight will allow us to greatly improve the speed and accuracy of our campaign data searches. Adding this latest online search tool provides the public and the press easy access to important campaign information,” said Padilla.
“By working with MapLight we are increasing transparency at little to no cost to the state,” he added.
MapLight executives believe the newly formed partnership will help keep the public more informed about campaign money and help keep an eye on public servants in elected office.
“Independent expenditures are a way that wealthy interest groups influence who is elected to run our government. The search tool supports transparency, and accountability in our government and makes it easier for citizens throughout California to keep track of who is funding election campaigns,” said Daniel G. Newman, President and Co-Founder of MapLight.
Considering this is a huge election year, Padilla is wasting no time in reaching out to every single segment of the population by reiterating the importance of everyone’s civic duty to vote in the Golden State.
“That’s been one of the most important things on my agenda. I have been actively exploring more ways for getting people registered to vote, but in turn, trying to find ways to actually get them to go out to exercise that vote on election day,” said Padilla.
Last October, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1461, known as the California New Motor Voter Act, which went into effect in January of this year and will require California drivers who are eligible to vote to be signed up automatically when they get a new or if they renew their driver’s license.
California became the second state in the nation to adopt an automatic voter registration system, following the state of Oregon who passed a similar law last year.
The goal of the ‘New Motor Voter Act’ is to tap into the 6.7 million eligible residents that are not registered to vote in California.
“Going beyond voting, I think its more important that we get more people involved civically at all levels of government. Voting is just one thing, but actually getting them to care about their local communities is key,” said Padilla.
Padilla also spoke about giving Californians more ways to cast their ballot by building on the popularity of voting by mail and embracing new technology that facilitates in voting centers.
“Could you imagine how much more convenient it would be to use an i-pad or smart tablet at voting centers? It would speed up the process when people check in at their polling stations,” said Padilla.
Padilla wants to use technology as a tool to facilitate the elections and voting processes. He pointed to the work the states of Colorado and Oregon in using technology to make it easier for their citizenry to register and vote.
“They use laptops and smart tablets and an efficient system that has not only reduced the amount of money it takes to operate their elections system, but has pushed up the number of voters. That is a win-win for me,” said Padilla.
California continues to fall behind in voting numbers.
According to recent reports by the California Civic Engagment Project at UC Davis, California is the 43rd state in the nation with the lowest voter turnout rate. It is not enough to get people registered to vote, but also to educate them on the importance of voting, said Padilla.
As Secretary of State, he has visited a number of schools in Los Ángeles County explaining to high school students the importance of civic engagement and what kind of impact their vote can have this year and in the future.
“I keep saying, the workforce of tomorrow is in our classrooms today,” said Padilla.
He pointed to the fact that 75 percent of students in California’s classrooms are in k-12 education and that 1 in 4 students in public schools are English Language Learners.
“That doesn’t mean they are all immigrants, or even the sons or daughters of immigrants. It just means that if they are ELL students, they are already behind the curve and my economic pitch is that we need to get them ahead,” said Padilla.
Aside from elections, education and keeping an eye on campaign finances, Padilla spoke about the leadership of California, as is reflected in it’s history.
“California’s first and original constitution was written in English and in Spanish. It is in the archives. Every time I look at it, I think of all the progress that has been made in this great state and how much potential it has in continuing to be a leader in the forthcoming years,” said Padilla.