Responsible for leading an agency that oversees programs that affect voters, business owners, and residents in the state, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is adamant about defending and expanding voting rights.
Three years since he was sworn into the Secretary of State’s office, Padilla has worked on improving several programs within the agency and most importantly increased the number of registered voters as California’s Chief Elections Officer, which has been accomplished by allowing California voters to register online, and according to Padilla, increased the number of registered voters by 2 million.
Although he did not originally plan to enter the world of politics, for Padilla it seemed like he had no choice but to become involved.
Originally from Pacoima, California, Padilla graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from his dream school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
However, he made the change to public service during the time of California Proposition 187, which sought to establish a state-run screening system to prohibit undocumented immigrants from benefiting or using services in California like non-emergency health care and public education.
“When I came home after college it was the era of Prop 187, and so as much as I was not interested in politics, as much as I wanted nothing to do with politicians, I realized from the Prop 187 experience that I had no choice but to be involved,” Padilla said.
Pursuing a career in politics was something that Padilla did not plan on pursuing and it was also not something that was expected in his family.
In the late 1960s Padilla’s parents emigrated from Mexico to the United States, separately but eventually found each other and married, Padilla said.
Despite both his parents becoming permanent residents, Padilla recalls that politics was not a common household conversation, because their status did not allow them to vote legally.
“It’s not that my parents didn’t want to instill that civic responsibility in us, it’s because my parents weren’t eligible,” Padilla said. “Growing up, they were legal permanent residents but they weren’t citizens so they couldn’t vote.”
That lack of familiarity with the voting system for young Americans who grow up in similar homes as Padilla’s, is something that he reflects on now as California Secretary of State and it is something that he acts upon, he said.
“How many millions of young people are in our schools throughout California with that similar experience? It’s up to us to create that cycle of being involved,” Padilla said.
He said he shares his story with high school students around California not only because he is proud of it but also because he knows it is not unique.
Padilla said everyone has a story of why their families came to the country and they have hopes and dreams for the next generation.
“I believe that’s what this this country has always been about and will continue to be about, providing access to the American dream for people who want to work hard for it,” he said.
As California Secretary of State, Padilla has many responsibilities some which include overseeing the state’s archives, elections, business filings, providing candidate and campaign finance information, and more.
However, it is also his job to defend the rights of voters in California, which he had to address as a result of recent attacks on the State’s voting system.
Following the 2017 elections, President Donald Trump insisted that states provide voter information to a commission that was investigating possible voter fraud, which to Padilla was untrue, problematic and an invasion of privacy.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity requested data that was beyond names and addresses and included information that Padilla did not believe in releasing.
“We said no immediately out of privacy concerns, cybersecurity concerns and concerns about voting rights because it was just a big pretext to attack our fundamental right to vote,” Padilla said.
This year, Padilla shared that voters in California will have more accessible voting and registration systems, through the implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act and the California Motor Voter.