Padilla, who has served as secretary of state since January, oversees elections and is touring California to talk to students about making the voting process more inclusive.
Padilla has sponsored legislation to create a voter registration program that signs people up when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license. AB 1461 has been approved by the State Assembly’s transportation committee.
Oregon has already passed a similar “New Motor Voter” law, and one student said that effort has helped to include more student and minority voices.
“UCSB is legendary when it comes to voter registration,” Padilla told the students, asking how that process worked on campus.
Students said they have permission to go into university dorms and register students as a nonpartisan effort, which they do each year as freshmen move in.
Within the 24th Congressional District, a seat currently held by Rep. Lois Capps, “you have one of the best examples of every vote matters,” Padilla said, adding that the district has a mix of political ideologies.
Padilla and Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who also attended the forum, said the students they talked with Thursday were more civically engaged than either of them had been during their university experiences, and commended the students for their involvement.
Before Padilla was elected Secretary of State, he served as a state senator, president of the League of California Cities and was a member of the Los Angeles City Council.
His parents emigrated from Mexico to Pacoima, Calif., where his father worked as a short order cook and his mother cleaned houses.
Padilla explained that his parents became citizens after he was in office, so he didn’t grow up with political conversations around the dinner table.
Many of the students in the circle had similar experiences and said their parents had emigrated from other countries to settle in the United States.
Several said that the 2008 election of President Barack Obama inspired them to get involved with the voting process.
Melvin Singh, external vice president of statewide affairs for the UCSB Associated Students, recalled quizzing his parents for their citizenship tests as a 5-year-old child, but the 2008 election was when his parents got involved in the political process, seeing a person of color take the highest office in the country.