David Curtis, an architectural theorist by trade and present Secretary of the Marin County Green Party is seeking to build a coalition of minor party support behind his candidacy for secretary of state. It would include the Libertarian Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, complemented by a nomination from the state’s Green Party.
Curtis faces a crowded field of four other candidates after announcing his intent to run in February of this year. Also in the running are, Derek Cressman, former VP of State Operations for Common Cause, state Senators Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), and one Republican, Pete Peterson, who is the executive director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement at Pepperdine University.
Curtis threw his hat in the ring, first and foremost, to change the way elections operate in the Golden State.
“I’m trying to get the election process to be more fair and more open,” he said. “The voters really modified it with that top two decision.”
“I’d like to get it more like a mutual hiring process where all the candidates are presented equally, they get equal access to airwaves, they get equal funding and there’s a lot of statute obstacles to that right now.”
If he gets the Green Party’s nomination, Curtis will have a steep hill to climb. A candidate from one of today’s minor parties has never served a full term in a state office in California, according to Ballotpedia.
Curtis argues minor party candidates are at a disadvantage in California because they won’t appear on the general election ballot if they don’t receive enough votes in the primary.
Proposition 14, also known as California’s nonpartisan top-two primary, was passed by a majority of voters in 2010. California’s nonpartisan system allows the top two vote-getters from the primary, regardless of party affiliation, to advance to the general election. Still, there may be room for candidates like Curtis to capitalize on the crowded Democratic field, but he isn’t entirely convinced yet:
“Because the Democrats are being forced to run so many candidates, they are cancelling each other out. So there’s a real chance that the Republican, or Independent or third party candidate can get that second place spot, depending on how the Democratic votes cancel out… but experience has shown it’s wiping everybody off the ballot.”
Part of making elections more accessible includes:
- Implementing instant runoff (IR) voting
- Potentially combining the primary and general elections into one
- Simplifying the voter registration forms and simplifying the Motor Voter program
- Introducing public financing for elections like those already operating in Maine and Arizona
- Reducing legislative district sizes and localize electoral economies
Most of these reforms could be tested during a special election since the SOS has the authority to administer such elections, explained Curtis.
However, the underlying problem of poor civic engagement is rooted in today’s political culture:
“There’s also a lot of people just checking out, not voting anymore… I think voters are disgusted and feel there’s a disconnect between the government and the people.”
Curtis was on board with updating the state’s failing CalVoter registration infrastructure when it came to the immediate issues facing the office. In August, the state auditor released a report finding $26.6 million in wasted taxpayer dollars initially dedicated to upgrade voting systems in California.
In order to avoid another debacle, the next secretary of state should narrow the office’s scope and keep things simple, says Curtis:
“[The legislature] is nervous that the [Secretary of State] is going to repeat this process of wasting money on something that can’t get implemented and I think that’s a valid concern… the Office does so many tasks that there’s a lot to maintain there and there’s a high probability that they’re going to drop something, and I think that’s what happened here… I would encourage the office to try to keep it as simple as possible.”
He also intends to take on agriculture giant Monsanto as secretary of state, a sharp contrast between the Green platform and the other candidates. The secretary of state has the power to grant business licenses for companies operating within the state, a power that Curtis would like to exercise to abate Monsanto’s operations in California due to the unproven long term health and environmental effects of genetically modified foods.
“We just simply don’t know what it’s going to do to us,” he said. “It might be safe, I hope it is for everyone’s sake, but i don’t think anyone knows the answer to that.”