Secretary of nonpartisanship

State Senator Jeff Denhamis a Republican legislator from Salinas

Partisan politics has found its way into the business of state elections recently with accusations of trouble at the California secretary of state’s office. As the state’s chief elections officer, the secretary of state has an ethical responsibility to remain above partisan politics. Despite an increase in recent voter turnout, trust in government remains extremely low.

I have introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 4, a measure that would make the secretary of state’s office nonpartisan.

My proposed amendment comes in the wake of a long list of alleged improprieties by California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. Shelley is accused of numerous campaign-finance violations and abuse of federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds. He also may have used federal election funding for his own personal political benefit. Federal investigators now say they may launch a full audit of the way Shelley spent the money. There are currently at least eight different investigations of California’s elections chief by state and federal agencies.

As the chief elections officer in the state, the secretary of state must hold the public trust and serve with the utmost ethics. If we do not have full faith in the integrity and independence of our elections, then our democracy has failed.

The precedent already has been set. Education, which should be a nonpartisan issue, is currently handled by the office of the superintendent of public instruction, a state constitutional office that is elected on a nonpartisan ticket. Elections should be no different.

The problem is not just Shelley. With the state’s top elections office a partisan one, it automatically creates an environment rife with the opportunity to take advantage. Shelley happens to be a glaring example. With Bill Jones and Shelley’s other predecessors, these problems didn’t occur, even though the opportunity existed.

Of the 51 secretaries of state in the United States, 39 are the chief elections officer, and five are appointed to be the chief elections officer of their state by either the governor or the legislature. All are stated members of one party or the other. It is time for California to lead the nation again. California would be the first state in the nation to have a nonpartisan secretary of state. Californians must be able to trust their elections are being handled in a nonpartisan way.