On the heels of the State Auditor's report, released last month, secretary of state candidate and current state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) offered his appraisal of the challenges facing the office. The audit, requested by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), found a combined $26.6 million in wasted federal funds that had been allocated to California in 2002 under the Help America Vote Act.
For Yee, the problem of technical ineptitude is not limited to the secretary of state:
"It’s not just the Department of Elections, it’s across the board within the state of California. We've had glitches upon glitches -- we had a payroll system, we had the database on paying child support, it has been on and on and on... Probably the best example for me would be the whole Cal-ACCESS system, you know that thing fell apart. That is an important system because it brings accountability to our government and the election system."
Cal-ACCESS, which is California's campaign finance database, underwent a modest upgrade last week. Nevertheless, Californians are still reliant on the CalVoter system to register to vote and track voter status. It has been widely criticized by voting experts as 'outdated' and 'cumbersome,' but is slated to be replaced by a unified VoteCal system by June 30, 2016.
In order to resolve these looming issues, Yee argued for bringing more interested parties to the table, rather than deferring to Sacramento for answers:
"I think that the only way that we’re going to really resolve a lot of this is rather than relying on the State of California to make the final decision, I think we ought to bring in a lot of the stakeholder interest groups that are very engaged about these kinds of issues, about how do you make things technologically appropriate, sensitive, and secure, and to have those individuals come in and participate in the discussion with the Secretary of State..."
When looking ahead to 2014, Yee said his first term as secretary of state, if elected, would emphasize reaching out to underrepresented communities and rural areas like those that line I-99. Likewise, Yee argued, doing so would require more than engagement during election time.
"The best way of doing it is not to do it 60 days, 90 days before the election. The Secretary of State should engage with a variety of organizations, interest groups, fraternal organizations… along with our schools, about the importance of participating in an election."
As other candidates for secretary of state have indicated, the importance of access to voting tools and government transparency online will be a focal point for the office. Yee also advocated for robust online voter registration and access to complete digital campaign finance filings.
Whether or not California will successfully implement the proposed VoteCal system in time for the next presidential race seems unlikely if past trends continue. However, two years may be enough for a future secretary of state to rejuvenate voters and return participation to the near 80 percent seen in 2008.
Cadee Condit Gray contributed to this report.