Saddleback college hosts panel discussion featuring California State Secretary and local congressional representative

Panel discussion leaders from left to right: Congressman Mike Levin, Saddleback College President Elliot Stern, and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. (Chloe Hernandez/Lariat)

On Wednesday, students and community members alike made their way into HS 145 at Saddleback College to listen to a presentation by Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Congressman Mike Levin on the upcoming California primary election and the importance of the 2020 census.

The presentation was opened by Saddleback student body President, Jake Rybczyk. He introduced Congressman Mike Levin and listed his main areas of focus since his election in the 2018 midterms, which include campaign finance reform, election security and voter rights. A round of applause was given and the mic was passed to Congressman Levin.

Congressman Levin opened his speech by thanking the community, student and staff members for making this event possible. Due to the relevance of the topics that would be discussed in this panel, he then spoke on the first and one of the most important bills passed by Congress in 2019, H.R. 1: For the People Act. This bill allows elections to be more transparent and accessible to voters by putting an end to institutional barriers of voting, ensures American elections are decided by American voters, holding online advertisements more accountable for facts, requires all political organizations to disclose their large donors, along many other precautionary measures.

Along with H.R. 1, Congressman Levin discusses H.R. 4, The Voting Rights Advancements Act, which gives tools to hinder voter suppression practices, ultimately protecting ever American’s right to vote. Both of these bills have passed the House and are waiting to be moved forward by Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Levin then went to introduce his fellow presenter, California’s 32nd Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Secretary Padilla graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, participated in the Coro Fellows program, was the youngest member elected President to the Los Angeles City Council, a state Senator and eventually was elected California Secretary of State in 2015.

Secretary Padilla takes stage and goes into the importance of the upcoming census. He states that United States Constitution calls for a national population count or census, once every ten years to determine the amount of federal funding each state receives for the next ten years.

“Funding for education, funding for healthcare, funding for housing, funding for infrastructure, on and on and on,” said Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State.

On topic of the upcoming primary election, Padilla introduces the idea of how Orange County will go about this election differently than ever before. This election, all individuals eligible to vote will automatically receive their ballot in the mail (stamps no longer required) and those who prefer to walk-in their ballot or vote in person at any vote center in the county over the course of ten days leading up to the election and election day itself. The increased accessibility is very important for a higher voter turnout in the upcoming elections, as voters can take weeks to decide on the candidate of their choice, then mail in their ballot from the comfort of their own home.

“Whether it’s voting, or the census, or democracy is dependent on us participating,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

The presenters then moved on audience questions regarding basic voter information, such as polling locations, deadlines, candidate information can be found on websites including, and the home website for California Secretary of State,

A large majority of audience members were students, so when the question, “As a student, why does my vote and participation in the census matter?” was introduced, all ears were tuned in. To this, Secretary Padilla responded that in the previous census ten years ago, the largest under counted population age was children under five. One decade later, these children are now teenagers in the school system and yet a large number of them were not counted for federal funding.

“Raise your hand if you think your school is given too much funding?” Secretary Padilla jokingly asked the audience.

Participation among students is paramount in this upcoming election to ensure schools are given the funding they deserve for the number of children they provide services for.

Focus then shifted from why voting matters, to the authenticity of our election. Community members still have the recent failure of the Iowa Caucuses in the back of their minds and people wanted to know why the California primary will not be the same.

Secretary Padilla reassured the audience that California would not have the same chaos as Iowa because the two election processes are not the same. Iowa holds a caucus, while California holds an election. With an election, voters go to a ballot station or mail in their ballots, but a caucus is a system ran by political parties and has a larger margin of error.

The presenters then discussed voter fraud in California elections, or better said the lack thereof. Our state goes to great lengths to ensure voter security while still making it as accessible as possible. The issue that has a greater presence, but still a small threat, is voter impersonation through stolen signatures or somebody going into a ballot station pretending to be someone else.

Near the end of the discussion, Congressman Levin and Secretary Padilla shared their optimistic thoughts on the increased voter turnout of recent elections and what that could mean for the future. The fact that the increase in voter turnout among 18-29 year-old’s took place during a midterm election was especially promising for future elections.

“Meetings like these are a great opportunity for local politicians to get the community involved and passionate about the issues they will be taking on if elected to office,” said Devin Smathers, Saddleback student attending the meeting.

The main message presented during this discussion: civic participation is more important than ever in the upcoming year.