A good choice

California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who resigned early this month under fire, needed to go. He’d abused the office, by spending federal funds on Democratic Party politics, and his staff, by being obnoxious and bullying. But we shouldn’t forget that he stood strong for voters in one regard: It was he who insisted that electronic voting not be instituted without safeguards, particularly a paper record of each vote.

Recently Butte County’s clerk-recorder and registrar of voters, Candace Grubbs, said in an interview that such a record was a waste of money, that people like her could be trusted to conducts elections fairly. Well, we may trust her, but we certainly don’t trust all election officials, nor do we trust the machines. They’re run by computers, and computers get glitches. Remember the precinct in Ohio that registered more than 4,000 votes for George W. Bush, when fewer than 1,000 people were even registered to vote?

Ohio had as secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell, who also served as co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in the state. He repeatedly made rulings that seemed designed to help his side. And then there was Kathleen Harris, the Florida secretary of state who did everything she could to assure George Bush’s victory there in 2000.

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s choice of Bruce McPherson to replace Shelley is a good one. McPherson, a former state senator from Santa Cruz, is a much respected moderate Republican who will serve the people well. But in the long run the office should be made scrupulously impartial. One suggestion for the 2006 election is to set up the race for secretary of state as an experiment in public financing, so that whoever is elected has no obligations to contributors. Another is to make it a nonpartisan, 10-year position appointed by the governor subject to the approval of two-thirds or 75 percent of the Legislature.

In the meantime, though, McPherson should get the job.