In preparation for California’s upcoming Primary election, we are releasing a quick background of each of the Constitutional Officers and what they actually do in the California government.
Today, we are covering California’s Secretary of State. California’s current Secretary of State is Alex Padilla, who was elected in 2014.
While some other Constitutional Officers have clear parallels at the Federal level, such as Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the California Secretary of State (SOS) has little similarity to the U.S. Secretary of State. The Federal Secretary of State is appointed, rather than elected, and is responsible for serving as the President’s principal adviser on U.S. foreign policy, conducting negotiations relating to U.S. foreign affairs, supervising the Foreign Service of the United States, and other foreign policy work. The California SOS has none of these powers. Their duties are solely related to the State of California.
As the chief elections officer, the California SOS tests and approves all voting equipment for security, accuracy, reliability and accessibility. The SOS also ensures election laws and campaign disclosure requirements are enforced. He or she also provides information to the public via voter information pamphlets on upcoming ballots and other elections within the state.
For example, Padilla championed the Power Search (and made it available in Spanish), which is a user-friendly search engine that accesses state-level campaign contributions ranging from 2001 to the present as reported to the SOS. Padilla also started the full online California Voter Registration system to increase voter registration through easy accessibility.
He or she is responsible for providing the public information on how to file a statewide ballot initiative. Upon request by the ballot initiative proponents, the SOS will review the measure with respect to form and language clarity and submit for a fiscal analysis. Once the measure is submitted to the SOS with signatures, the office will then review signatures to verify their validity. Once the signatures are determined valid, the SOS will notify the proponents and county elections official and submit as eligible for the ballot.
The SOS also registers businesses in the state and commissions notaries public. He or she also keeps the state’s key documents including the Constitution and Great Seal, and keeps the state archives.
The Business Programs Division of the SOS’s office registers and authenticates business entities and trademarks in California. Business must register within the state for tax purposes and other legal reasons. Trademarks, while registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, must be brought to the state government for review by attorneys and state officials for approval.
The Notary Public Section appoints and commissions eligible notaries public, who are state officers that certify and witness signatures on official documents. A notary public in California must go through training and registration through the Secretary of State’s office.