Forum for secretary of state candidates hosted at International House

Kayla Baskevitch/Staff

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UC Berkeley housed the third and final California Secretary of State Candidate Forum on Thursday at International House, where remaining candidates Alex Padilla and Pete Peterson shared their plans to increase voter participation and their vision for California’s democracy.

The California secretary of state, elected every four years, is responsible for overseeing elections and business filings, among other duties. Current Secretary of State Debra Bowen was first elected in 2006.

Moderated by KQED senior editor John Myers, the hourlong forum included a moderated debate and ended with the candidates’ responses to questions from Twitter and a panel of community organizations. Both candidates shared common interests in using technology to facilitate the voting process and making campaign data more accessible and transparent.

Padilla, a Democratic candidate and state senator from Los Angeles, said his intent is to create jobs and increase voter engagement and transparency of campaign contributions. Sharing his immigrant family background, he added that “with hard work and good education, anything is possible.”

Peterson, a Republican candidate and the executive director of Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement, plans to use technology “in a nonpartisan way” to transform and increase civic participation. Citing his endorsements from multiple newspapers in the state, Peterson considers himself an “outsider with experience.”

Throughout the forum, the candidates agreed on issues such as making political campaign finances more transparent and streamlining the registration process for California businesses.

According to Peterson, the secretary of state should serve as a survey and data gathering agency of small businesses. Padilla added that focus should be placed on how Californians can start and keep their businesses in California.

A main divide in the candidates’ agenda was whether to implement new electronic voting machines. During the forum, Padilla said that while he supports electronic voting machines, they should have a paper trail for auditing purposes.

Peterson was more interested in supporting broader use of touch-screen voting machines to reach out to people who may not be able to vote otherwise and to catch up with other states such as Colorado that have advanced voting technology.

“Paper is an essential voting bedrock,” said David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory whose research involves studying electronic voting methods. For paperless voting, people usually have to trust software written by vendors, he added.

In 2007, Debra Bowen limited use of inauditable direct-recording electronic voting machines, which allowed voters to vote by touchscreen.

“I agree that more research and innovation is needed (for electronic voting machines),” said David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University whose research includes electronic voting systems. “But it is important to note that most of these (disabled) voters vote by mail.”

Californians will have the opportunity to cast their vote for the next secretary of state in November’s election.

“I was pleased that both of the candidates were respectful,” Jefferson said. “I think both candidates acquitted themselves very well, so from that point of view, that was refreshing.”

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.

A previous version of this article stated that Pete Peterson was interested in reviving paperless electronic voting. In fact, Peterson supports broader use of touch-screen voting machines, but did not say that he supported those without a paper trail.