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State Capitol. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

What is the Role of California’s Secretary of State?

The Secretary of State performs multiple roles in California state government

By Chris Micheli, November 9, 2021 2:45 am

The Secretary of State performs multiple roles in California state government, from being the depository for corporate documents, as well as campaign and lobbying filings, to conducting statewide campaigns. Most of the litigation involving the Secretary of State has revolved around elections.

For example, the Secretary of State, rather than each individual county, was the proper defendant in an action alleging that voters in counties which used punch card voting systems were denied the right to vote in violation of the federal 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. According to this federal court decision, the source of the problem was the provision of California law which allowed counties to choose voting systems of widely disparate quality and the Secretary of State had the authority to change the law. Common Cause Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles v. Jones (2001) 213 F.Supp. 2nd 1106

In a state appellate court decision, it was determined that counties and county election officials waived the issue that the Secretary of State’s act of conditioning voting system use on post-election tally requirements was barred as not “reasonably necessary” to effectuate the purpose of statutes where the merits of the tally requirements were discussed only briefly in the counties’ reply brief, in a discussion not linked to the “reasonably necessary” legal standard.

According to the appeals court, the Legislature’s broad delegation to the Secretary of State of the authority to regulate voting systems included the authority to condition approval of the use of particular voting machined on the adoption of requirements that votes in 10% of the precincts be manually tallied after an election with a narrow margin of victory. County of San Diego v. Bowen (2008) 166 Cal.App. 4th 501, review denied

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