During her campaign, Secretary of State Deb Bowen promised to review the voting machine question carefully and update the voting process in California to assure accuracy and transparency. Given her track record of progressive and innovative leadership, we here at Speak Out California enthusiastically endorsed her in her campaign. We have recently caught up with the hyperactive Secretary and asked her to provide us with an update on what she’s been doing since taking over the reigns of this important office. Not surprisingly, she’s been off and running to fulfill not only her campaign promises, but to provide the same open and creative leadership to this position that she brought to her 14 years as a visionary leader in the California Legislature. Here is her report:
Dear Speak Out California readers:
I have to tell you what an amazing feeling it is to be here and I want to thank everyone who has been involved with Speak Out California for your help and support in helping me to become Claifornia’s Secretary of State!
The job is fun, exciting and challenging-made even more so by the decision of some in the Legislature to push the presidential primary election up from June 2008 to February 2008.
The Secretary of State’s office is made up of more than 400 people and while most of them work in the main office in Sacramento, there are also field offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Fresno. I’ve visited the folks in the Los Angeles and San Francisco offices already, and I plan to make it to Fresno and San Diego in the not-too-distant future.
To say that it’s been an exhilarating first month would be an understatement. I just got back from spending a week in Washington, D.C., at the National Association of Secretaries of State annual conference. In addition to talking with other Secretaries from around the country about the challenges we all face, I also took the time while in Washington to meet with people who will be working on elections-related issues in Congress this year.
I spent time with California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Rules Comiittee and will be introducing a measure dealing with touchscreen voting machines, as well as New Jersey Congressman Russ Holt, who has been working on the issue for the past two years. I aslo met with California Congresswomen Juanita Millender-McDonald, Susan Davis, and Zoe Lofgren, who are members of the House coummittee where elections-related measures will be heard, and Gracia Hillman, the head of the Election Assistance Commission.
Back here in California, I’ve begun the “top-to-bottom” review of voting machines certified for use in California that I talked about during the campaign last year. The scoping process to establish the criteria for such a review recently got underway and I hope to release both the criteria and the timeline for review in the very near future. It’s my plan to conduct as much of the review in public as possible, though as you know, because voting machines contain proprietary software, I’m precluded by law from opening up that portion of the review to the public.
As you may recall from last spring, there was a problem with the statewide voter registration database regulations because former Secretary of State Bruce McPherson crafted them in a way that prevented many eligible Californians from being able to register to vote. I’m in the process of re-writing the regulations right now and have asked those people who joined me in taking issue with the regulations last year –the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials, the League of Women Voters, and several county registrars of voters–for their help in drafting the new regulations.
The statewide voter registration database, known as Cal-Voter, is old and needs to be replaced. This is a complicated computer project, one that will cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, and it’s one we need to get right the first time. Right now, I’m in the process of reviewing the various options for the project to establish the criteria for what a new system should look like before it’s put out to competitive bid later this year.
While dealing with voting systems and the conduct of elections is certainly the most public function performed by the Secretary of State, what many people don’t know is that more than two-thirds of the people who work for the agency are focused on other tasks. The Secretary of State’s office is the first point of contact for most businesses in the state and handles over one million filings a year, runs the state’s “Safe At Home” program for domestic violence victims, is home to the domestic partnership registry, and much more.
On a more personal level, one of my goals is to meet everyone who works for this wonderful agency. So, I’m going around to the various divisions and dropping in on people, introducing myself personally to them, and learning both what they do and how they think the agency can improve its service to the public.
Every day is a new challenge and a new learning experience as I adjust to a different role and a different pace than I had over the past 14 years during my time in the Legislature, and as people here in the agency adjust to my style and my priorities.
I hope all of you will continue to stay in touch. If you ever have questions about what I’m doing or need anything from the Secreatry of State’s office, my new phone number is (916) 653-7244 and the new e-mail address is
Thank you, Speak Out California, for the good work you are doing and I look forward to hearing from you soon.