Secretary of State Should be Non-Partisan
The secretary of state is California's chief elections officer,
charged with ensuring that our elections are fairly and efficiently
conducted, that elections laws are administered uniformly and that the
administration of the elections process remains free from partisan bias.
The officer charged with such responsibilities should be elected as a
nonpartisan officer as a matter of law. Under current law, the political
parities choose nominees for secretary of state at the primary election
and the voters then select among partisan candidates in the general
election. The result has been a partisan secretary of state who is
expected to pursue the agenda of whatever party he or she represents.
But like oil and water, partisanship and fair elections just don't
To be sure, we have been fortunate in recent years. March Fong Eu,
although elected a Democrat, established a tradition of conducting our
elections in a nonpartisan fashion that has become a model for much of
the nation. This was in spite of routine pressure to further specific
partisan agendas. Much of that pressure can be eliminated by making the
secretary of state a nonpartisan office.
Understandably, the idea is not a popular one among many party
regulars. I was recently booed by delegates at the Democratic Party
Convention in Los Angeles when I advocated the idea. Many party regulars
in both major political parties believe that the secretary of state
should use the office to further party goals. In so urging, they fail to
understand what this office is all about-the fair conduct of
elections without regard to partisan interests.
Party labels are important, of course, in assisting the voters in
understanding the philosophies of candidates for office. But the
secretary of state is not in the business of promoting the party line.
The secretary of state is in the business of making sure that all
candidates of all parties are treated fairly in terms of the
A party label on the ballot by the candidate's name doesn't help
voters at all in choosing a secretary of state who will do the job he or
she is elected to do.
For these reasons, I proposed legislation earlier this year to place
on the ballot a measure to amend the state constitution to make the
office of secretary of state nonpartisan.
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