CA Secretary of State Race is a Contest for Election Integrity

Original article published by California Progress Report

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

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

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

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 cost-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.