Tag Archives: voter ID laws

An Evening With Debra Bowen In Downtown LA

Last night I was fortunate enough to be present at a small-group discussion with Secretary of State Debra Bowen hosted by the California League of Conservation Voters.  Despite this being a hectic time for the Secretary of State (E-12, in her parlance), she took a couple hours to fill us in on efforts leading up to this year of three separate elections.

In the final two weeks for voters to be eligible for the February 5 primary, there was a surge of registration.  At a “midnight registration drive” in Sacramento, over 1,500 citizens registered to vote in one day (sadly, registrars in places like Los Angeles County resisted efforts to do the same because it would be “inconvenient” for them to update their voter rolls).  While she had no prediction on turnout in the primary, Bowen was confident that there will be a lot of excitement and potentially a good turnout.  One drawback is the fact that decline-to-state voters have to opt-in to receive a ballot for the Democratic primary (they are shut out from the Republican primary).  When I asked Bowen about this, she replied that counties are required to actually notify DTS voters of their rights, and that some precinct locations will have signage notifying them to that end, but that this is insufficient and her hands are tied by state law to some extent.  The parties who want to welcome DTS voters into their primary have a big role to play in this.  The Democratic Party, if they want to expand their base, should make a legitimate effort to let DTS voters know they can vote in the primary.  It will have the effect of getting them in the habit of voting Democratic and give them a stake in the party.  There are also legislative reforms, regarding mandatory signage inside the polling place, changes to the vote-by-mail process (nonpartisan voters must request a partisan ballot), that can be taken.


Bowen’s great achievements since taking over the Secretary of State’s office include an insistence on voter security, and outreach to young voters.  On the security front, despite the howls of protest from county registrars, Bowen will be limiting precincts to one touch-screen voting machine (for disabled voters) and will be undergoing increased security and auditing procedures.  A lot of these measures will be behind the scenes, like delivering voting equipment in tamper-proof bags so that evidence of changes to the equipment will be obvious.  And the auditing procedures, with an open testing process, may delay voting results, but are crucial to maintain confidence in the vote.  A court recently ruled in favor of Bowen and against San Diego County in implementing these changes, but she expects an appeal.  As Bowen said, “Since cavemen put black stones on one side and white stones on the other, people have tried to affect election results.”  But she is doing whatever possible to make sure those efforts will be supremely difficult in California.  None of her provisions so far are slam-dunks; it’s hard to create something foolproof, considering that memory cards for many machines can fit in your pocket, and so many machines are hackable.  But Bowen is making an excellent start.

Bowen was cool to this idea of voter fraud, which has been pushed by conservatives for years.  She described that there has only been one documented case of voter fraud in recent history, and that it’s a high-work, low-reward strategy for cheating.  Efforts to stop this non-existent problem include voter ID laws, expected to get a boost with the Supreme Court likely to allow the one in Indiana to go forward, despite Constitutional concerns.  While Bowen deflected many attempts to get voter ID laws enacted in California while on the Elections Committee in the Senate, she believed that such attempts would never pass this Legislature.

As far as reaching out to young voters, we all know about Bowen’s use of MySpace and Facebook to keep young voters informed (and yes, she also reads Calitics).  But one measure she talked about last night struck me.  On February 5, over 140,000 California high school students will engage in a mock election, featuring a Presidential primary and three mock ballot initiatives: 1) should the vehicle license fee be ties to auto emissions, 2) should voting be mandatory, and 3) should government do more to stop bullying on social networking sites.  This is an ingenious way to get people interested and excited in politics at an early age, and sounds like a model program.

We have a long way to go on national election reform; Bowen noted that only three Secretaries of State (her, and the two in Ohio and Minnesota) agree that there needs to be a federal standard for national elections.  What we need to do is elect more competent professionals like Debra Bowen and keep pushing the debate in the direction of reform and voter confidence.