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Give Bradbury another term

The secretary of state has been diligent and effective in office

The office of secretary of state is one of those largely administrative positions that probably ought to be nonpartisan. But until Oregon voters get around to making that change, we're stuck with election contests that frequently take on a partisan tone, whether justified or not.

This year's race for secretary of state pits veteran politician Bill Bradbury, the Democratic incumbent, against Republican challenger Betsy Close, a three-term state representative from Albany, and Libertarian Richard Morley, a retired auditor. We see no compelling reason to replace Bradbury.

The secretary of state is Oregon's chief elections officer, audits state government agencies and maintains the state archives. The office also is responsible for redrawing legislative district lines when the Legislature cannot agree ' a task that fell to Bradbury after the 2000 Census and generated considerable criticism from Republicans.

Bradbury was most recently in the news when his office rejected enough petition signatures to deny Ralph Nader a spot on the November presidential election ballot. That also triggered charges that Bradbury was acting to help fellow Democrat John Kerry win the state on Nov. 2.

Close, arguing that Bradbury has not been aggressive enough in auditing state government, said she would examine every line item of every program of every state agency every four years. That's a tall order, and an expensive one.

Bradbury points out that merely completing the annual audits required by state law takes up six months of his auditing staff's time, making it a challenge to add more audits without additional funding. Still, he says, his office has completed 215 audits, saving the state &

36;40 million.

— His staff also uncovered &

36;800,000 in questionable administrative expenses by the Oregon Lottery, forcing a change in the leadership of that agency and saving at least &

36;500,000 so far. Bradbury says he wants to audit every school district in the state over the next four years to identify efficiencies in administrative expenses such as grounds maintenance, buildings and lunch programs.

Close also criticizes Bradbury's handling of the Nader petitions in particular and the initiative process in general. The state Supreme Court unanimously upheld Bradbury's rejection of the Nader petitions, and he was instrumental in cracking down on fraudulent signature-gathering operations in previous elections.

Close questions whether Oregon's mail balloting is too vulnerable to fraud, especially whether non-citizens are illegally casting ballots, although there is no hard evidence that this is a significant problem. She introduced legislation to require proof of citizenship.

Bradbury has successfully eliminated all punchcard ballots in the state since the 2000 election, fought to keep the state Voters Pamphlet, and is working to centralize all voter registration in the state. He also has made progress toward online reporting of campaign contributions and expenditures, a weakness of the state's public disclosure system.

The redistricting process ' a thankless job at the best of times ' drew complaints, but partisanship wasn't one that stuck. After the new lines were in place, Republicans gained three seats in the House and lost one in the Senate. There were some issues with district boundaries crossing county lines, but no map would have satisfied everyone.

We are satisfied with the job Bradbury has done, and we recommend that voters keep him in office for four more years.