June 27, 2008 - Official's aim: fine-tuning how we vote
Paper: Modesto Bee, The (CA)
Title: Official's aim: fine-tuning how we vote
Date: June 27, 2008
Author: TIM MORAN
California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's goal in challenging the state's voting systems over the past few years was simple: She wanted elections to center on candidates and issues, not the voting process.
And while it may have caused angst for county officials, Bowen said, she believes she has largely succeeded in removing doubts about the security and accuracy of the voting systems used in the state's 58 counties.
Bowen, the keynote speaker Thursday night at a Central Valley Democratic Club fund-raiser at the McHenry Mansion in Modesto, likened the voting security and accuracy issue to California's levees -- if there is a potential for problems, the state should address it before the problems occur.
"I wanted to get the issue of the way we vote behind us, rather than leave lingering doubts," Bowen said in an interview before her speech.
Her efforts caused a number of counties, including San Joaquin, to scramble to fix voting systems that Bowen's office identified as having problems. Stanislaus and Merced counties did not have to change the equipment used in the elections.
Problems included the inability of government to see the software in the voting machines and understand how the votes are tallied. "It creates big barriers to transparency and the ability to audit the results," Bowen said.
Another point of controversy between Bowen's office and county registrars of voters was a new requirement to expand the post-election audit in contests that were closer than a half-percent on election night.
The state requires a hand tally of 1 percent of the votes cast as an audit. Bowen's new rule requires a tally of 10 percent of the vote in those close races.
San Diego County sued over the audit, contending that Bowen had overridden her authority, because state statutes don't require the extra effort. The courts have sided with Bowen.
"Anytime you change anything there will be some grumbling," she said. She has instituted 69 new security and accuracy measures, and only one, the expanded audit, caused a legal challenge, she noted.
"The goal here is accuracy, and giving people confidence that the result is accurate," Bowen said.
The extra audit has the potential to slow election results, possibly by weeks, she admitted, and cause candidates, campaigns and the media to complain.
"But if we got it wrong, people would never forgive me," Bowen said. "It's a lesson we learned in Florida in 2000."
The secretary of state received the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation's Profile in Courage Award in May for imposing the strict new controls on electronic voting in spite of political opposition.
Bowen said she doesn't foresee major changes to the voting process.
"We are really refining at this point," she said, adding she hopes to create a feedback system in which "near misses" of voting problems in counties can be analyzed to prevent them throughout the state.
"I'm trying to bring the scientific method to this, so we can strive for continuous improvement," Bowen said.
Other goals are the federally mandated statewide voter registration database, due next year, and a simplified voter registration system, Bowen said.
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Section: LOCAL NEWS
Index Terms: election; modbee
Record Number: MOD_182EA69E
Copyright 2008 The Modesto Bee