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7 Vying for Secretary of State Agree on Reforms

October 22, 2002|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

When it comes to replacing antiquated punch-balloting systems, improving voter turnout and fuller disclosure of campaign financing, all seven candidates for secretary of state agree.

In a debate before a sparse crowd at Cal State Fullerton, the candidates expressed surprise last week to find themselves on the same side of several issues related to voter registration and elections.

Five candidates also said at Friday's forum that they support Proposition 52 on the Nov. 5 ballot, which would allow voters to register up to the day of the election. "We have a crisis in our democracy," said Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco). He wrote several election-reform bills signed by Gov. Gray Davis, including one allowing people to apply to be permanent absentee voters.

Republican Keith Olberg, a former Assembly member, and Edward Noonan of the American Independent Party oppose Proposition 52. Olberg said he supports same-day voting in principle but not the ballot measure because it doesn't properly deal with potential voter fraud.

Shelley countered that other states have allowed same-day registration without a jump in fraud while simultaneously boosting turnout.

Other candidates backing Proposition 52 are Louise Marie Allison of the Natural Law Party, Libertarian Gail K. Lightfoot, Valli Sharpe-Geisler of the Reform Party and Larry Shoup of the Green Party. All seven candidates also applauded plans for electronic voting to replace punch-card ballots by 2004, provided that there is a "paper trail" backup. Several also were open to the idea of Internet voting.

Allison, the Natural Law candidate, suggested that Oregon's process of voting by mail was one way to improve participation in California, where only a quarter of registered voters cast ballots in March. Shoup, the Green candidate, supported "instant runoff" ballots, on which voters would rank their choices, with secondary votes counted in case one candidate failed to receive a majority.

Other candidates agreed that voting could occur over several days to give people more time to cast ballots.

Shelley said state money is available to improve voting systems through a measure he wrote that passed in March. Federal funds also have been authorized in a bill on its way to President Bush. The money should be spent not only on equipment but also on making sure poll workers are trained, Shelley said.

The candidates also agreed that little attention had been paid to their race and that, without much money, most have had few opportunities to get their message to voters. The exception is Shelley, the Assembly majority leader who has raised nearly $2 million and had $1.1 million left as of Sept. 30. Olberg has raised about $620,000 this year and has about that amount in cash on hand.

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