CA Secretary of State Race a Contest for Electoral Integrity

Original article published by California Progress Report

Debra Bowen: A Powerhouse California Secretary of State Rather Than an Appointed Placeholder

Bowen Will Have to Overcome Money Disadvantage and a Determined Republican Effort to Keep Schwarzenegger Appointed Incumbent McPherson


By Frank D. Russo

There is no question that State Senator Debra Bowen would make one of the greatest Secretary of States that California has seen and would make sure that every vote is counted, accurately and fairly, a concern on the minds of many voters. She has a record of accomplishment she can point to as a California legislator since 1992 and has authored many of the laws that she would be enforcing. She has served as Chair of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment, and Constitutional Amendments Committee and is regarded as an expert in government reform, consumer protection and privacy rights, environmental conservation, and open government.

She just received a ringing endorsement by the San Jose Mercury News
"Bowen better suited to be secretary of state: Legislator's skepticism needed in move to electronic voting."

She is also the only woman on the ballot for any of the California State Offices from Governor through all the down ticket races. And she's a Democrat in a Democratic state.

She faces two major problems: A concerted effort by Republicans to retain this office and a money disadvantage in an important but
relatively low visibility race. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed
McPherson to this position when Kevin Shelley resigned has been helping behind the scenes and McPherson had $1 million in the bank as of the last reporting period ending September 30, 2006, much of it from the usual Republican suspects--insurance companies, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, energy companies--and some folks who you would expect to be supporting a Democrat but hedged their bets when it looked like McPherson would be the favorite to win. You can bet there will be more last minute money from Republican sources before the election.

But McPherson has upset many voters and organizations concerned
with the accurate counting of votes. In the spring, he
certified Diebold voting machines without proper hearings
and documentation. Bowen called him on it. In the latest survey, the
Los Angeles Times poll, Bowen had the edge by 35 to 33% with a huge
undecided segment of likely voters.

This is a big state and it usually takes a lot of money--a lot more than the million McPherson has to be able to communicate with the voters. In the same filing period, Bowen has only $365,000 in the bank. But the one area that cannot be discounted is the loyal following she has from many of the netroots. It was the word of mouth from the grassroots and electronic version of this from the internet that propelled Bowen to a landslide win in the June Democratic primary. At this time in the primary race, polls showed
her trailing with a large undecided vote.

Her record should speak for itself. Just take a look at some of the bills she authored in this last session that on election matters that became law:

Voting Systems Standards (SB 370) Requires
elections officials, when doing the 1% manual recount required by law, to use the paper ballots produced by electronic machines.

Voter privacy (SB 1016) A three-part bill that:

1. Protects the confidentiality of voter signatures by making signatures confidential the same way Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers on voter records are protected.

2. Protects the confidentiality of initiative petition signatures by requiring initiative proponents to train signature gatherers on keeping signatures confidential.

3. Helps people registering to vote protect their privacy by putting clear disclosures on voter registration forms telling people they only have to give a driver’s license OR a Social Security number, not both; the phone number and e-mail address on the form are optional, not mandatory; victims of domestic violence have a right to keep their data confidential; and voter data can be released to political campaigns, journalists, researchers, and elections observers.

Safe At Home Program (SB 1062) Under current law, only domestic violence and stalking victims are allowed to enroll in the Secretary of State’s “Safe At Home” confidential address program, which allows people to receive mail at a confidential address set up and maintained by the Secretary of State. This bill allows sexual assault victims to enroll in the program as well.

Voting Systems Standards (SB 1235) This expands last year’s SB 370 (Bowen). The manual count law requires the votes in 1% of the precincts (with some exemptions) selected at random to be counted manually and matched against the results from the electronic tabulator. This bill requires: 1) All “early voting” center and absentee votes to be included into this tally; 2) The precincts to be included in the 1% count to be randomly selected by a random generated number method or based on regulations drafted by the Secretary of State; 3) A five-day public notice of when and where the precincts for the 1% audit will be selected and of the audit itself; and 4) The results of the audit to be made public.

Voting System Standards–Recounts (SB 1519)
Requires the Secretary of State to set up standards for how recounts
are to be conducted. There is no state law or regulation on how exactly recounts are conducted. Instead, the procedures (which vary by voting system) are laid out in an informal “best practices” manual between the Secretary of State and the counties. This bill requires the Secretary of State to create official rules and standards, so everyone (including the public) will know how it’s done and it won’t vary from county to county.

Voting System Standards–Absentee Ballots (SB
1725) Requires counties to “track” absentee ballots so a voter can call in (or log onto a web site) and check to see if their ballot arrived.

Bowen said at the time: “Nearly 47% of the people who voted in the June primary did so by absentee ballot, yet unless they dropped their ballot off in person, they have no idea if it arrived by the 8:00 p.m. Election Day deadline. Nearly every county already puts bar codes on absentee ballot envelopes so they can sort and track them more easily, so using that existing system to let voters find out if their ballot arrived in time to be counted is a most effective way to keep voters involved and informed." A great idea.

Voting Machine Inspection (SB 1747) Right now,
the law restricts the ability of people to inspect voting machines,
limiting it to county central committees who can send in “data
processing specialists or engineers.” This bill expands it to every
qualified political party, removes the requirement that they be “data processing specialists or engineers,” and permits up to 10 people from a “bonafide collection of citizens.”

Voting System Standards–Paper Trail (SB 1760)
Precludes the Secretary of State from certifying any voting system
unless the paper ballots and the accessible voter-verified paper audit trail (AVVPAT) retain their integrity and readability for 22 months.

That’s how long, under current law, elections officials are required to retain these documents. This has been informally referred to as the “Elephant Gestation Bill,” since 22 months is the gestation period for a baby elephant.

Bowen has been a pioneer on many other voting reforms. In 1993 and 1995, for instance, she authored bills to allow any voters to sign up for permanent absentee ballots, which ultimately became law in 2001.

Spread the word about Bowen to your friends and other voters any way you can. This may be a squeaker of a low visibility race and there will be a drop off as many will not bother to cast a ballot for this office.

Go to Bowen's website for more information. She even has a blog where you can get to know her better.