When Kevin Shelley resigned in disgrace last year as California’s secretary of state, having misused hundreds of millions of federal dollars, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger found the right replacement. He named Bruce McPherson, a onetime Santa Cruz newspaper editor and former legislator, to fill out the term.
McPherson, a moderate Republican who wants to make his office nonpartisan, did not use the time idly. He went right to work to recover the $169 million frozen in Washington while the feds investigated Shelley’s misconduct. The money was intended, under the Help America Vote Act, to ensure the integrity of the state’s elections, and McPherson wanted to make the best use of it.
Securing that funding, he set out to clean up Shelley’s mess. He created a statewide voter database, and made instantly accessible the latest information on political campaigns. He’s also overseen the installation of electronic voting machines, instituting checks to see that some of the early mishaps will not reoccur.
Just last week, showing his lack of partisan taint, he accompanied Orange County’s Republican district attorney on a mission, filing charges against 12 GOP operatives who allegedly switched new registrants’ party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. This in a county where voter fraud charges generally fly in the other direction. Suspicion that Democrats regularly enlist the votes of illegal immigrants has bedeviled the county since Democrat Loretta Sanchez ousted Republican Rep. Bob Dornan a decade ago.
This year a Vietnamese congressional candidate’s campaign sent out a mailer to Latino families warning that noncitizens would be prosecuted if they voted, for which insolence Tan Nguyen was asked by his party to withdraw. He refused.
Though the letter unconscionably went out to many real citizens with Hispanic surnames, there has been enough anecdotal evidence of the voter fraud to merit a broader investigation. Anxiety about this sleeper issue stems from the astonishing ability of people to waltz into a polling place and vote without showing identification.
Therein lies the making of a massive political scandal, and we’re pleased to see McPherson take up the highly charged issue in his bid for a full term. It has fallen in his path, and he is called by his constitutional responsibility to slay the voter-fraud dragon even if the beast’s fiery breath singes him.
McPherson may be the perfect official to take up the sword. An independent Republican, he was confirmed for his post unanimously by the Democrat-controlled state Senate. He seems not to harbor ambitions to run for governor, freeing him to correct a serious flaw in the state’s electoral system.
His opponent, state Sen. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey, a laudable champion of governmental transparency, resists voter verification, but is otherwise well-suited to become secretary of state. Bruce McPherson already has undertaken important tasks. Wise voters will not remove him from those tasks.