On Friday, February 7, 2020, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla visited Berkeley High School (BHS) to promote youth civic engagement and voter registration. California Senator Nancy Skinner was also planning on attending, but unfortunately, a last-minute personal incident meant that she could not attend. A representative for Skinner said that she “sends her regrets.”
Padilla presented in the Florence Schwimley Little Theater to over three hundred students during fourth period. Vote16 Berkeley organized the event in collaboration with the Alameda County registrar of voters. The co-presidents of Vote16, Zo Pancoast and Sadie Fleig, spoke first, giving background on Vote16’s registration drives and other work in the Berkeley community. The two reported that over the past two years of voter registration drives at BHS, Vote16 has registered or pre-registered over seven hundred students. “When youth vote in their first election, they are much more likely to continue voting,” Fleig explained in her speech. Pre-registration allows youth to register to vote when they turn 16 so that they are automatically registered when they turn 18. “Voting is an all-encompassing issue,” Pancoast said.
Pancoast and Fleig introduced Padilla, who was elected State Secretary of California in 2014 and has served ever since. The son of Mexican immigrants, Padilla grew up in the San Fernando Valley, excelling in math and science at school. He recounted something his father had said to him throughout his childhood, saying, “I want you to work with your mind, not your back.”
Padilla spoke about his unexpected acceptance to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he got a mechanical engineering degree. Upon returning to California in 1994, Padilla said he noticed “a few things were going on” which he wanted to change. For one, California was in the middle of an economic recession, and Proposition 187 was passed in California. Proposition 187 limited public services for immigrants, including healthcare, and, in some cases, access to public education. The proposition was challenged in court and never ended up going into effect, but Padilla said that the potential threat to the rights of a community he cared so deeply for helped him realize that as a citizen, “I don’t just have the right to vote, I have an obligation to vote.”
Padilla also talked about his highly successful “Motor Voter” program that allows anyone applying or renewing official documents at the DMV to register automatically. He has also helped implement same-day voter registration. Padilla brought up the fact that people aged 18-29 years old are the voting population with the biggest potential, but they historically have the lowest voter turnout. His pre-registration efforts have gotten over five hundred thousand 16- and 17-year-olds registered to vote.
Padilla also spoke about the upcoming US 2020 Census, which will begin on March 12. Padilla emphasized the importance of participation in the census, because “it determines our share of federal funding not just for the next year, but for the next ten years.”
Additionally, Padilla said that “the census is a determinant of our level of representation in Congress,” meaning that if California shows that its population has increased substantially since the 2010 census, we could receive more representation in the House of Representatives.
After Padilla finished his prepared remarks, ASB Vice President Daijah Conerly facilitated a Q&A session with some prepared questions and questions from the audience. When asked what the biggest challenges he faces as Secretary of State, Padilla said: “Misinformation and Disinformation.” Padilla further explained that misinformation is false information spread unintentionally, while disinformation is false information spread intentionally, with the purpose of “creating confusion and not having confidence in the processes and results that we deserve to have.”
Padilla also explained the systems for voting in some other counties in California called the Voter’s Choice Act, where all voters automatically get their ballots in the mail, but still have the option to vote at any polling place they desire. Those polling places are open over eleven days to maximize voting accessibility. Alameda County has not adopted these election reforms, but Padilla expressed his enthusiasm about expanding the Voter’s Choice Act.
Finally, Padilla encouraged students — regardless of age or citizenship status — to engage in what they are passionate about and to push people they know to vote. Recognizing the potential of the BHS community, Padilla said, “I know political activism is in the blood here.”
Disclaimer: Arev Walker is a member of Vote16.