BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Questions about our voting system have always been a part of American Democracy.

But the integrity of the process was under heightened scrutiny in 2020, and claims of a stolen election remain almost two years later, putting the people who oversee elections at every level in the spotlight.

Here in Kern, the person in charge of elections, Mary Bedard, is stepping down at the end of her term in 2022. Thus far, her assistant, Aimee Espinoza, is the only one in the race to replace her.

A Bakersfield native and CSUB graduate, Espinoza has worked for Kern County for over 15 years.

“I know I can do a good job and I’m up for the challenge,” Espinoza said.

Since 2019, she has served as the assistant to Auditor-Controller-County-Clerk Mary Bedard. It’s a position that deals with taxes, payroll, notaries and, also, conducts all of Kern’s elections.

“Being high-profile especially right now, it’s tough,” she said. “But I think it’s really important.”

As Espinoza points out, after two years in which election security has been at the forefront of American politics, what was a rather inconspicuous job when Bedard first took it on in 2012 is now in the spotlight arguably more than ever before.

“A few years ago, it wouldn’t be an issue but because we literally had a president question the integrity of our electoral system, it does become an issue,” Democratic analyst Neel Sannappa said.

Espinoza says she could feel the increased focus on the position in Kern’s elections office.

“It definitely is heightened now,” Espinoza said. “I spent the last two years being probably more involved than assistants in the past have needed to be.”

Republican Analyst Cathy Abernathy doesn’t believe those in Kern’s Elections Office have an agenda but says loose California voting laws make it hard for them to run the process smoothly.

“There’s no honoring of a system about how you have to register and show IDs.” Abernathy said. “The system is vulnerable, and it’s as vulnerable here as it is anywhere else.”

Espinoza believes her first-hand experience helping run Kern elections in this climate prepares her to take on the job.

“Regardless of political beliefs, whatever the people say, that’s the result,” she said. “Regardless of whether I agree with it or not, that’s not my job. My job is to make sure the people have a voice. “