The leading Republican candidate for Secretary of State in California does not want to go on record as to why he once claimed to agree with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that GOP polling place Photo ID restrictions are "offending people".
Pete Peterson is, according to a mid-April Field Poll [PDF], leading a large field of candidates of all parties to become the next chief election official in the Golden State. He's a public policy adviser at Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute (which is funded in part by Charles Koch) and, according to that poll, leads his nearest competitor, Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla, by double-digits in the state's upcoming June 3rd "Top-Two" primary contest.
Earlier this month, Paul offered a wobbly position on Republican polling place Photo ID restriction laws, at first seeming to buck his own his own party's years-long strategy to impose such disenfranchising statutes in states around the country. "Everybody's gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing," the Senator told the New York Times during an an interview. "I think it's wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it's offending people."
On the day the NYT article ran, Peterson --- a Republican running for statewide office in a very "blue" state --- quickly allied himself with Paul, tweeting that he "agree[d] w Rand on his points re voter ID".
But, as we noted when The BRAD BLOG covered Paul's remarks, the Kentucky Republican and 2016 Presidential hopeful, was cagey in his comments to the Times. He didn't declare such laws to be wrong, per se, even though they may serve to remove the voting rights of millions of otherwise perfectly legal (and largely Democratic-leaning) voters. He said only that such restrictions were "offending people". He also later seemed to flip his position on the matter.
Just after the initial comments, however, and Peterson's tweeted claim to agree with him, we asked the candidate to clarify exactly what it was that he was agreeing with in Paul's remarks...
Getting a clear answer from the candidate has not been easy, despite multiple attempts to follow up via both Twitter and email. Peterson has, to date, failed to offer a specific answer to the query.
After his initial tweet on the matter, I asked him whether his agreement with Paul meant that he agreed that Photo ID laws are "offending people" or that they are simply wrong, due to the disenfranchising nature of such voting restrictions. I asked several times, in fact, and then finally received a response from him via Twitter telling me that I would "find the answers [I] seek in the [Los Angeles Times] endorsement".
The Times endorsement of Peterson, unfortunately, does not answer the question I have been asking. The paper reports only that "Peterson does not support voter ID laws and other supposed anti-fraud initiatives that would suppress legitimate voters." That's a quote from the LA Times explanation of his position, not a quote from the candidate himself.
The question of precisely why he opposes such laws remains an unanswered question, and one that he should be pressed on by others in the media. It's no small matter, given that, not only are Republicans pushing such laws around the country, as part of a long-term, well-funded effort, an attempt to impose such restrictions on CA voters may be on the ballot [PDF] this fall, along with Peterson, if he is one of the two highest vote-getters in next week's statewide primary election.
Moreover, just after Paul's initial statement to the NYT, he almost immediately walked it back on Fox "News", telling Sean Hannity that "there's nothing wrong with" Photo ID restrictions.
So, as I politely asked once again via email earlier this week (I believe it was my fourth attempt, at least, to get a specific, clarifying answer from Peterson), does he agree with Paul that "there's nothing wrong with" such laws? Or does he disagree with Paul, who he'd originally said he agreed with, and believe that GOP Photo ID restriction laws are simply wrong for voters and U.S. democracy? If so, why? Only because such restrictions "offend people"? Or because it is wrong to take away voting rights from legal Americans on the Republican Party's pretend premise of stopping "voter fraud"?
Peterson has failed to answer the follow-up tweets or the email sent earlier this week as a final effort to get a specific response before running this article.
Short of any clarifying statement, one must conclude that Peterson's one-time agreement with Paul was little more than an attempt at political expediency in an otherwise progressive-leaning state. When asked to clarify that position, Peterson seems to be working very hard to not do so.
That sort of failure to come clean on such an important issue to voters inspires little more confidence in a candidate for Secretary of State in the nation's most populous state than the leading Democratic candidate Padilla's effort to mislead voters about his dangerously radical election reform bill, or the Green Party candidate David Curtis' recent defamatory claims about The BRAD BLOG after we'd accurately reported on his support for Internet Voting and his subsequent threats to sue us for having done so!
Given the importance of California to the rest of the country, particularly when it comes to voting systems, there's not a lot to choose from amongst this year's candidates for the state's top election official. So far, among the current crop of candidates, the least disturbing one we've been able to find is former Common Cause executive turned Democratic candidate Derek Cressman. Unfortunately, there are also concerns about his understanding of the job as well.
We'll keep looking...
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UPDATE: Peterson's office finally sent the following response to our emailed query. Please note that his response arrived just prior to publication of the above article, though I didn't see it until some time after publication. As I have been at KPFK doing The BradCast this afternoon, I'm only able to publish his response now, (though was I able to read the crucial part of the response on air today). Here's Peterson's response in full [emphasis in original]...
"My work at the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine has taken me all around the state, improving civic engagement processes, and talking with County Registrar's from all over. One of the things that we all agree on is that most of the voter fraud occurs before Election Day with provisional ballots and signature gathering. This is all due to the fact that California is the last state in America not to have completed a statewide voter database. I believe that's what California needs to be focused on, and as Secretary of State that will be priority number one; to complete the Federally-mandated statewide voter database. I simply agreed with Rand Paul's assessment that we shouldn't focus on it, because my work and research have shown me that having those laws in place isn't a significant solution to fraud, and isn't the responsibility of the California Secretary of State to initiate. Completing our statewide voter database will improve ballot integrity. The non-partisan Pew Center recently estimated that California has at least one million out-of-date voter files. This is, in part, due to the varying quality controls counties use to maintain their respective voter databases.
Also alarming, has been the Legislature's defunding of crucial ballot security measures. The current Secretary of State herself, Debra Bowen (D), wrote a memo about last year's budget bill (voted for by Sen Alex Padilla) that "AB 110 suspends [underline in original text] the requirement that signatures on provisional ballot envelopes be compared against voter affidavits to determine ballot eligibility, thereby removing a critical method to prevent voter fraud."
As you'll note, Peterson still fails to speak to whether Photo ID restriction laws are wrong, because they disenfranchise legal voters, as I had asked several times. He asserts only that his party "shouldn't focus on" such laws because, as he claimes, they are not "a significant solution to fraud."
In fact, as both many studies and court cases have now found, such laws are not a "solution" to voter fraud at all. Such laws have nothing to do with preventing fraud and everything to do with keeping legal voters from voting. As federal district court Judge Lynn Adelman recently ruled while striking down Wisconsin Republicans' Photo ID restriction law in April, such laws "prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes."
Peterson's efforts to work on other areas where he feels fraud persists --- and where it is certainly more evident than the extraordinarily rare act of in-person voter impersonation --- is commendable. His inability to call out his own party for their years-long effort at systemic voter suppression through Photo ID restriction laws is not.