The California State Auditor's report, released earlier this month, exposed millions in wasted taxpayer dollars. According to the report, inconsistent policy spanning multiple secretaries of state and a failed government contract wasted nearly $26 million in federal Help America Vote Act funds.
Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) is running against fellow Democrats Derek Cressman and Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) to replace Debra Bowen. Republican Pete Peterson, the executive director of Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University, has also declared his candidacy.
Senator Padilla argues California's voting infrastructure hasn't kept up with current technology.
"California has fallen behind in the use of modern technology to improve election administration... California has large numbers of registered voters, 18 million, more than any other state in the nation. We need to ensure our statewide voter registration database has the capacity to maintain accurate records and provide voters and eligible Californians with the information they need to participate in our democracy."
In order to accomplish that goal, Sen. Padilla supports replacing the state's existing CalVoter infrastructure with VoteCal. He also argues VoteCal's proposed features like online absentee ballots tracking, and same-day voter registration should be pursued. An initial contract to implement the system cost $4.6 million with "no significant benefit to California’s voters"according to the state auditor.
Yet, Padilla is confident the new contract will provide tangible results.
"The VoteCal database will also have the ability to more efficiently capture and store historical and current voter information and process and store city and county election districts," he said.
Consequently, Padilla's Senate Bill 361, which passed the Senate in May, would centralize voting data as well as provide online feedback on each voter's ballot status:
"It is important for voters to be able to check the status of their ballots. In 2012, over 236,823 voters had their ballots rejected for a variety of reasons. SB 361 would allow voters to check if their ballot was counted and if not, the reason why so they are informed and empowered to fix the problem."
SB 361 is now before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
When it comes to increasing voter participation, Padilla brought up some strategies other candidates haven't mentioned, including ballot-on-demand (BOD). BOD voting systems are semi-portable ballot printing machines which can print ballots 'on-demand' per each voter.
"It can free voters from a specific polling place and allow them to vote at additional locations," Padilla said. "As a state we do not have the technology infrastructure to make this happen, but Los Angeles County is moving ahead. I am excited to see the results."
Although technology will inevitably play an increasing role in elections, Padilla stressed a multifaceted approach to the Secretary of State's priorities:
"Increase registration from state agencies and schools. Strengthen the accuracy of our voter rolls so election officials can ID voters who need to update their voter information or are eligible to vote, and encourage non-partisan voter registration drives – nothing is more powerful than neighbors talking to neighbors about voting."
Success of the pending VoteCal system has yet to be seen, but other states like Michigan have already implemented similar projects.