California Secretary of State Resigns
Friday evening, Kevin Shelley, the Secretary of State, resigned. The news had been filled for weeks about his growing problems with allegations that he had misused federal voting funds and a recent public hearing about his being an abusive boss. Reading the stories about Shelley, it becomes increasingly apparent that the good that he did for California is being drowned out by the feeding frenzy that surrounded his last few months in office.
You can read about the allegations in other places, but Californians have been well-served by Kevin Shelley in his capacity as Secretary of State. For one thing, Shelley was given high marks for the fairness of his handling the recall election with its 135 candidates and only two and a half months campaign.
And one area that Shelley has been undeniably a great Secretary of State for all Californians was in setting standards for the Touch Screen Voting systems (Direct Recording Electronic voting systems or DREs). Instead of just going out and certifying any old DRE, Kevin Shelley formed an Ad-Hoc Touch Screen Task Force that provided him with a set of recommendations on what to do to verify that elections on these systems are seen as fair by all parties. Using the experts on this subject, including Dr. David Dill, professor of Computer Science at Stanford and founder of the Verified Voting organization, he put in place a process that must be used when handling the votes from the DREs and also ruled that all DREs used in California by 2006 must have a paper audit trail. Because he stood up for Calfornians and their right to fully accountable, verifiable and auditable elections, we will have a system that protects our rights to a valid vote. Nevertheless, by taking this stand, Shelley made some people very angry and others accused him of standing in the way of getting Californians the voting systems that they should have from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money.
But Shelley's overbearing style infuriated some county registrars with whom his office needed to work closely. Among them was Los Angeles County elections chief Conny B. McCormack.
She accuses Shelley of fumbling a historic opportunity to upgrade the state's voting infrastructure with federal money under the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA.
According to a state audit released in December, while registrars waited for Shelley to give them money to buy voting machines, his office spent some of the funds on temporary workers who attended partisan events, apparently to raise Shelley's political profile. The audit faulted Shelley's office for exercising such lax controls that California may miss the January 2006 federal deadline to create a statewide voter registration database.
"Instead of improving the election process," McCormack said, "there's not a single county that's HAVA-compliant, because of actions of the secretary of state."
I've been following this issue for a while now and I don't know what Shelley did to delay the ability of the County Registrars to purchase new voting systems other than requiring that the DREs have paper audit trails by the 2006 election.
The allegations are just that, allegations. Nothing except that fact that Shelley has a bad temper has been proven yet.
Shelley's resignation shouldn't be taken as an admission of guilt, said Republican political consultant Wayne Johnson. Taken separately, he said, each allegation against Shelley could prove to be more smoke than fire.
But politics sets a different standard than the law, Johnson added.
"You bring your credibility to the office," said Johnson. "When it drops too far, you can't really function in that job."
And, indeed, the stories about the resignation make it clear that his resignation was not an admission of guilt, but a recognition that it would be very hard to overcome the perception of corruption and how it was affecting his family.
Still, Shelley seemed ready to battle it out -- at least until he won assurances his legal troubles would end and that he would have another job somewhere.
Neither assurance, however, was forthcoming, sources said -- no job, no deal. Nevertheless, the tipping point apparently came Wednesday night, after his 84-year-old mother collapsed and was rushed to the hospital with double pneumonia. When Shelley arrived at her bedside, one confidant said, his mother quizzed him on whether he would be able to keep his job -- or find another one.
"I'll be all right," Shelley replied, by this account.
"Are you sure?" the mother asked. Moments later she slipped into unconsciousness.
By Friday morning, Shelley had made up his mind to resign and began notifying people.
As a Secretary of State, Shelley stood up for the voter first, over the County registrars and the companies who manufactured the DREs. It seems a real shame that he has been forced to resign when other Secretaries of State (Blackwell of Ohio and Hood of Florida) who were blatantly partisan and downright hostile to the voting rights of their public go about their business with nary a worry about investigations.
Will his replacement, to be named by Governor Schwarzenegger, bring the hard-ball politics of Rove to California? Who then will stand up for us and our rights to free and fair elections?