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CA SoS Debra Bowen Conference Call & Transcript


CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen Conference Call & Transcript
Blogged by Julia Rosen

The audio from the September 16th conference call with Secretary Debra Bowen, Rick Jacobs and myself is now available. Below is a transcript from the call.

Very special thanks to Brad Freidman of BradBLOG for the audio and Emily Levy of for the transcript.

Conference call transcript by Emily Levy:

Rick Jacobs: This is Rick Jacobs. I'm chair of the courage Campaign here in California. We're a progressive, unaffiliated, online netroots and grassroots organization that is dedicated to uniting progressives in the state. We offer a suite of tools on our site, which is We have a series of conference calls such as the one we're going to all be privy to this afternoon. We welcome anybody and everybody to join us in all that we're doing. The range of things we've been involved with this year goes from petitioning to help move the election up to February 5 so that California would have more of a voice in the primary (I'm sure that the Secretary of State will have a few things to say about idea) and we also have been very involved in something that's quite topical today, which is Blackwater Security Corporation which wants to open a training base in San Diego County. Blackwater, as you probably saw in the news, was ejected from Iraq, or at least the government of Iraq would like to eject that security company if they possibly can. Of course, private security forces are important to the U.S. government's privatization of the war there. So we have waged a campaign you can learn more about at to try to keep Blackwater from moving into San Diego and into California. And most recently we've been very involved in the No Dirty Tricks campaign, another electoral issue, which is designed to try to prevent the right wing from hijacking 20 electoral college votes here in California by changing the way those votes are cast. And I'm sure Secretary Bowen will be able to give us some more details, I know people have asked questions about that. If you want to learn more about that you can go to

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With all of that said, we had a conference call with Secretary Bowen in March. Many people on this call probably participated in that call, and at that time the Secretary was newly elected, newly inaugurated, a true grassroots and netroots hero, someone who has dedicated her life to public service. And in the Senate, California Senate, headed the committee that was responsible for all of the issues that the Secretary is now responsible for in the executive branch. And she won with the support and, I think, in large because of the support of many people on this call and many others all over the state who wanted someone who has a real position of principle and who said she would do certain things and as we have seen and are about to hear more has done them. For that, by the way, we want to give Secretary Bowen the first ever Courage Campaign award for Courage in Public Service. And we'll be sending you a suitable little statue for your office. But it means a lot to us because today, in today's world when politicians are maybe a little bit too busy being politicians and not busy enough being leaders it's an honor and a pleasure to have someone who takes on her role with such seriousness and actually gets things done. So think very much for, for all of that.

Also on the call today is Julia Rosen, who is familiar, I think, to probably everybody on the call and a lot of people across the state. Julia is a leading blogger at Calitics and has become the online strategist for us at Courage Campaign and has really added immeasurably. Julia will be asking some of the questions on behalf of people who've submitted them. And, with that, what I'd like to do is turn the conversation over to the Secretary and then we'll go from there and Julia will be submitting some questions, asking some questions that have been submitted. So, Secretary Bowen?

Secretary of State Debra Bowen: Thank you very much, Rick, and thank you, Julia. Thank you for organizing this. This is one of those technologies that, that I'm glad we have an ability to take advantage of in this way. I've tried to give regular people as much access to me and to how I'm thinking about things as I can and still get my job done.

I want to thank the 2500+ people who signed the courage Campaign petition supporting the Top-To-Bottom Review project and the dozens of people who emailed me independently and wrote letters to the editor of their local newspapers in support of the project. It was really moving to know how many people, regardless of party registration, were behind this and thought it was very important that we deal with these issues of election integrity. I also appreciate the Election Protection California section on the Courage Campaign website and I'm looking forward to seeing the questions that are posted there and I will be checking back in with answers.

The last, at the last conference call in March the Top-To-Bottom Review was in its early stages. The review wrapped up in late July and, as I knew would happen, we had in this office an intense amount of time pressure to get everything done. I wanted to hold a public hearing even though one was not required and we really--I erred in cutting off the time for my own review rather than the time for public review. So the review was completed the week of August third and the, and it was very interesting. Every system that we looked at had security flaws. Some of the things were surprising. I hope that everyone has taken a look at the reports posted on the website. It's many hundreds of pages but fear not, if you just skim the executive summary you will have a pretty good Cliff Notes to the Top-To-Bottom Review.

The legal method that I used to deal with the systems was to decertify each of the voting systems and then recertify with conditions. This was the mechanism I chose in order to enable me to impose increased security requirements and enhanced auditing requirements across the board on all voting systems that will be used in California. In addition, two of the systems, the Sequoia and Diebold touch-screen systems, I limited to one per polling place with a 100% manual count of the voter verifiable paper audit trail, and to early voting. That was a reflection of the concerns that the University of California experts who did the Review, what they found in the Review.

Rick asked me to talk a little bit about what the Top-To-Bottom Review has meant for California and the nation. It certainly has gotten some national exposure, that's for sure, but that was not the point of the Review. We've had a lot of discussion in the past seven years about voting systems and a lot of stories, a lot of documented problems, and it's always been my desire to make decisions based on facts and information rather than on anecdotes, so the Review was intended to give us a rigorous baseline for making decisions about voting systems.

Some people have criticized the Review as being biased and not conducted in the real world, and it certainly was not, it was conducted in a laboratory setting. The major criticism has been that it did not take into account the physical security that is used in many counties--most counties--but I think it is a mistake to assume that an attacker who wants to interfere with the outcome of an election will not find a way to get their hands on either a voting machine that is used in the polling place, one of the memory cards that is used, or on some other piece of equipment. Or the source code itself. And a quick review of the history of voting systems just in the past few years tell[s] us that indeed the companies that make these systems have not been able to keep the equipment and the source code completely private and secure. In fact, if you go on EBay right now you will find that you could purchase an ES&S Eagle voting machine right there on EBay for I think three hundred and seventy-four dollars.

So we are seeing, though, other states both looking at the results of our review and attempting to do their own. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is planning a similar review. She needs approval from an Ohio State Controlling Board which just last week imposed at least a delay on the funding for the review. In Kentucky the Attorney General has been asking the secretary of state what safeguards he has put in place in light of the California studies, and in Alaska the Attorney General there just last week asked for a review of that state's voting machines similar to what the University of California did here. I think it would be a good thing for the country if everyone does this kind of review. I would hope that eventually the testing that is done on a federal level will provide us with all of the information that we are currently getting in these state-by-state reviews. It is not the best use of either taxpayer resources or vendor resources to have to do this multiple times in different states, but at the moment it's the only choice we have for getting it done.

I've been fortunate in California in that I had the tools to do this, both access to the source code by law and a master contract with the University of California that allowed me to put in place review teams on a fairly short notice. So California was uniquely situated to be able to do this.

California has 58 different voting systems, 58 registrars of voters, and each has over time set up their own system and are very, in very different circumstances with regard to their voting systems. Thirty-five of our counties already use paper-based optical scan systems with one DRE or in some cases a ballot marking device for disabled access compliance under the Help America Vote Act. Those counties will have very few changes to make. They will be primarily dealing with the security and the auditing requirements. Two counties, Orange and San Mateo, use all Hart E-Slate machines and so their changes also will be dealing with security, requirements to hardened servers and auditing requirements. There are 21 counties that have been using an all touch-screen Diebold or Sequoia system and they will be the ones who have to make the biggest changes, but it's important to keep in mind that last November somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of all Californians cast their ballots on paper, either in the polling place on an optical scan system or by voting absentee, which by its very nature has to be on a paper system. And also important to note that every county in California, because they all process absentee ballots, already has a system and equipment that allows them to process absentee ballots, paper ballots. So for the 21 counties that are making a major change in the polling place, many of them are going back to systems that they used before 2005, 2004, 2003, depending on the year, and all of them I believe will be using a system that they already have and will be making scale changes. The primary difference will be whether those counties choose to use precinct-based optical scanners which have the advantage of notifying voters if they have over-voted or whether they choose to take all precinct ballots back to the county facility on election night for counting. And the 21 counties who use optical scan, I'm sorry, the 35 counties do both.

Rick asked me whether we have the infrastructure to conduct three elections in 2008, which of course would be challenging even without any change in voting equipment. It will be the first time since 1940 that we are going to have three statewide elections in one year. We certainly have the physical infrastructure, though some of it will be different than what we've used for the past few years. Again, though, realizing that no electronic voting was used in California until fairly recently. The bigger question I have is how we're going to manage the human infrastructure. And by that I mean poll workers, elections officials, and voters. The fatigue factor I think will be very high. Three statewide elections is a lot for registrars, a lot for county employees, a lot for Secretary of State employees and a lot for poll workers and voters to handle. I'm most concerned about there being a problem in June because there is no natural draw to the ballot box. I think people will be fired up in February and November. I wouldn't be surprised to see quite an impressive turnout in February and again in November but that June primary in the middle I think will have a lot of people feeling like they already voted in the primary. To that end, counties that have people signed up to be permanent vote-by-mail voters I think will have an edge because those voters who are signed up to vote by mail every time automatically will get their ballots for the June election, and that eliminates one procedural barrier to voting absentee or by mail, which is the need to request a ballot.

I'm often asked by people what they can do to support my efforts and to ensure that their votes are accurately counted. My answer would be to get even more involved. Clearly members of the Courage Campaign are already involved, but I'm asking people to go beyond that. If you have concerns about their being an adequate number of well-trained poll workers and you can afford a day, please become a poll worker. If you want to know how votes are tallied, please go on election night and watch from the observation room. If you want to know if the votes were tallied accurately please go and watch the post-election audit process. Last year I authored a law that required counties to tell people when and where the post-election processes will take place but that law will not add any value to the process if no one goes to watch the audits. If you have questions or concerns about how things operate in your county, I would encourage you to go meet with your registrar of voters. I know that most registrars would welcome a chance to talk with people and to explain their operations. If you don't talk to the registrar personally there's probably someone on staff there who can help answer questions. All the registrars that I'm working with want voters to have confidence in the process and are anxious to help demystify the process.

Just as an example, Deborah Seiler, who is the new registrar in San Diego County has taken a lot of flack because she has worked for two voting machine companies, although it's probably less well-known that she also spent some years working in the Secretary of State's office. When she got to San Diego she knew there was a very active group of people who were concerned about the Diebold machines there and about how elections were conducted and she began meeting with people fairly quickly in order to learn specifically what their concerns were and how she might address them. I can't pass on whether people felt the answers were sufficient but you cannot make any progress if you don't talk to people, and so I appreciate both Deborah Seiler and the activists in San Diego County who made it their business to have a direct line of contact with their new registrar.

One final thing that I wanted to address before we go to questions has to do with the various proposals that we may be seeing to change the way in which electoral votes are allocated. My general rule on ballot initiatives as well as on candidates is to don my referee's shirt and not take a position and that means that I will not be making an endorsement in the presidential primary or other races in which I have the responsibility for certifying the outcome of the election. There's not a bright line I can draw, but I make an exception for ballot initiatives that specifically address aspects of the election process because I think that people want to know what the secretary of state thinks about various of the proposals.

The proposal that is being circulated right now for signature, and which has popped up in a few other states as well, would eliminate the winner-take-all system that California and 47 other states use to award electoral votes to presidential candidates and would replace it with a system that is either proportional based on popular vote or based on Congressional district; there are a couple of versions of this. There are two states that use an allocated system right now. They are Maine and Nebraska. Clearly these are small states that have a small number of electoral votes and so a change there is not likely to upset the outcome of a presidential election. That is certainly not true of California with its electoral votes.

I agree with those who are promoting the change that the electoral college system is an idea that has outlived the purpose that it may once have served. However, this proposal on a pure policy level, setting aside the obvious political overtones since the idea is being pushed only in states that have a high percentage of registered Democrats, is exactly the opposite of what I believe we should be doing. I believe that people in this state and across the country who have supported electoral reform support it because they want to make sure that the presidential candidate who gets the most popular vote across the country is the person who is sworn in as president in January every four years, rather than having additional fiddling around with the electoral college, which is not an institution that I believe serves us well because it focuses campaigning only on the so-called battleground states. And that means that voters in most states are never engaged in the policy issues that underlie a presidential campaign. And, like it or not, a presidential campaign, not a secretary of state campaign or a State Assembly campaign, is the place where policy issues are most likely to be discussed seriously and thought about by many Californians.

There is another proposal that would move to a popular vote system indirectly, taking heed of the fact that it's highly unlikely that the Congress will ever eliminate the electoral college because it does benefit small states, and it would basically move us toward the popular vote by creating a compact among states that collectively have enough electoral votes to change the outcome of the election. Right now there's a bill on the Governor's desk, it's SB37, it's similar to a measure that the Governor vetoed last year. I don't know whether that will go into an initiative, but regardless of what goes before the voters, I think this discussion about the electoral college is going to have increasing interest and steam in the next couple of years. And I would not be surprised, in fact I would fully expect that the measure that's before us will, will qualify.

Oh, let me make a correction. The Migden bill is not on the Governor's desk, it was held in the Assembly. So it is a two-year bill.

That's the end of my formal comments, and now I look forward to the most interesting part of this, which is the questions.

Jacobs: Well, Debra, thank you very, very much. First of all, again, thanks for serving, because I think we always forget, or often forget, that people who choose real public service, which you have, and you are really a public servant, give up a lot. And so thank you for doing that and thanks for knowing the issues so well and taking the time.

What we'd like to do is turn this over to Julia Rosen, who has culled through a lot of the questions. In advance of doing that I want to mention one other person, Vicki Cosgrove, who is a long-time activist in a lot of communities in California, and who is working with a lot of different activists in the state and is going to be coming back, I think, with some ideas to help people with organizing vehicles and also using Courage Campaign tools to help do some of the things you talked about. And I think others will be as well. So I wanted to give a kind of a shout-out to her. So, Julia, with that, I turn it over to you.

Julia Rosen: Great. Well, you seem to have stolen a couple of the questions, obviously anticipating what people are interested in. We received dozens and dozens of questions and the ones that we selected were asked by a number of people. The first one that was asked the most was what can folks do to help, was asked by Cheryl Fertel and Liz L. in Ukiah and Vicki Cosgrove, but specifically is there anybody that we should be targeting with our support for you? Do you need any help in that regards, rather than the general ways you can help around election day?

Bowen: No, I mean I think at this point the Top-To-Bottom Review is completed. Some registrars were very supportive, a few were not, but there's no one who's not committed to making things work and we now have elections to run. So if you see that your registrar of voters in your county is making changes I would encourage you to applaud that action. I think it, we have to remember that praise and applause are as useful or more useful than criticism. So if you see something good going on in your county, give a shout-out to it, please.

Jacobs: By the way, on that note, I will mention that at least five registrars had signed up for this call. From Alameda, San Bernadino, San Francisco, Shasta and Sonora Counties.

Bowen: Oh, good. I'm glad I'm saying nice things, then! (Laughter.)

Jacobs: Well, I'm very, I think it's a big tribute to the grassroots and netroots folks on this call that again Secretary Bowen is taking the time and also these registrars are taking the time. It's a big deal and so we really appreciate it.

Bowen: I'm delighted, too, and I think, I do call, we have a monthly conference call with registrars, typically an hour, I expect we'll have more calls as time goes on. As you might imagine, a lot of technical issues arrive, arise, as well as a lot of questions about the, about funding and about HAVA. So I feel like we're making progress in what, in being able to work together well.

Rosen: Well, let's see. Unfortunately, the opposite tone, I guess the opposite tone, I guess I should say, of some of the questions in this regard. Brad [Friedman] of BRADBLOG fame asked, "What is Secretary Bowen's plan for implementing the new rules across the state with so many resistant officials?" And Tom C. from Murrieta asked similarly, "The Red Team commented that the basic architecture of the e-voting machines was so flawed, including the most important way, the central tally scanners, that they would have to be re-engineered from the ground up to be acceptable. If you simply placed, added 'security procedures' as the requirement for recertifying the machines, what resources does the Secretary of State have to ensure 100% compliance with those requirements? And as you know, there's a long track of, track record of the RoVs ignoring any requirements they don't like." Seth states that he's concerned that the counties and vendors will give every [as]surance just to get recertified and then will not comply and they will not allow observers close enough to report the violations.

Bowen: Well, first, the conditional certifications anticipate that all counties will adopt security plans and they, we're working with counties by vendor group right now to get that done. And that's something that I didn't spell out, I didn't spell out all the security measures that would go into a good security plan in detail for a couple of reasons. One is that that is an area where the registrars really have the expertise. Second, it varies by vendor, and third, it varies greatly by county size. So that what we do in Trinity County which has about 5,000 voters just wouldn't make any sense in Los Angeles County and vice versa. So the security plans, I think, will be a major part of it and the audit requirements will be, of course, carried out after the elections.

In order for the two touch-screen systems to be recertified they would need to go through another process and I don't see any way, given what the reports say, that they would be recertified by this office without a significant re-engineering. And that would really mean a new approval at both the federal level and the state level. So I don't, I don't see the vendors, the two vendors whose touch-screen systems will not be used coming forward with just security measures. And, in fact, Sequoia has told us that many of the issues that were identified in the report were things that will be addressed in the next version of their equipment. Obviously we won't see that until it finishes the federal certifications, but vendors are going to have to make a decision whether to invest additional resources in their touch-screen systems, and they have a pretty good road map for what they need to do based on the University of California report, or whether they think that the direction of the market at least for the next few years is going to favor paper-based optical scan systems and obviously each vender will make their own choice as to where they think they have the best opportunity for success.

Rosen: Alrighty, the next question was probably the most common question from people like Kim T. in South Pasadena: What's your position on the Holt bill, HR 811?

Bowen: I have not taken a position on the Holt bill.

Jacobs: Wait, could I just ask that you, for those of us who might not know the details of that bill or roughly what it is, just to describe it a little bit?

Bowen: Yeah, well let me just first say that Rush Holt very early on, Congressman Rush Holt introduced a bill dealing with the problems with the electronic voting machines at a time when there really weren't very many people in Congress paying attention to it. And I give him big credit for that. The bill that, the bill has changed, and it's hard to get it to sit still long enough to know really what's in it. But it has some very important measures for improving post-election audits that would apply across the board to all states. And I believe there's been some work done to deal with the practical issues of that, but I think that would be welcome. It, the main crux of it would be to require a voter verifiable paper trail for all touch-screen or electronic voting machines, and that's probably the issue that has garnered the most controversy, with some people believing that, who are the I think it's 13 states that now have paperless electronic voting machines, that it would go a long ways towards improvement and others believing that that will just encourage states to continue to use these touch-screen systems that at least to date don't meet basic security requirements, in my view.

What's already happened, regardless of whether the Holt bill passes or not, is that most jurisdictions who are purchasing new equipment are no longer seriously considering electronic voting machines, direct recording electronic voting machines. It's just too risky a, an acquisition, given that there are no states that are experiencing issues and no federal bills that are proposing bans on optical scan-based systems, I don't think whether the Holt bill passes or not that we will see new touch-screen voting systems deployed. But that's really the point of controversy and I will (pause) think it's important again to look at the research and the paper trail is really problematic. The theory is good, the idea that voters would verify their vote before casting it. But I saw a paper presented in August when I was in Boston that really looked to the question of how many people notice if there is a difference between what's on the paper trail and how they voted. And I'd have to look at the study to get you the exact numbers, but the rate at which people noticed errors even when as many as eight errors were introduced in the paper trail was astonishingly low. Fewer than half of voters noticed even as many as eight discrepancies between the manner in which they had cast their ballots and what was reflected on the paper trail. And what that means is that it's not a useful check on the accuracy of the equipment. So I don't think we ought to be encouraging the use of a system that theoretically provides an audit but because of the way people actually use it, doesn't. And that's my view of the way that the paper trails currently work. It's, if everyone did check every single contest in which they voted I think the lines would be out the door because it would take so much time, and if you have to go back, it's a fairly time-consuming process, to be able to page back and do it and then review the whole ballot again.

Indeed, one of the exploits on one of the voting machines relied on the fact that many people don't review the paper trail. The Red Team added a little piece of code that changed the result both on the electronically recorded ballot and on the paper trail. If the voter noticed and went back, the software in essence said, "Uh-oh, I better do this right the next time and corrected it," but if the voter didn't notice, and again I go back to the study that says more than half of voters don't notice, then the paper trail matches the wrong electronic ballot and you have no way of knowing that votes weren't recorded correctly. So I think for transparency reasons alone, optical scan, which is a voter-marked paper ballot, or the AutoMARK is a computer-marked paper ballot, is just a superior way to go right now.

Rosen: Alrighty. The next question is something you touched on earlier. The Presidential Election Reform Act, and it's obviously of a lot of concern to our members, and we actually got questions on this from David R. in Highland Park, Illinois and Carl, rather, Chris _______ in Carlsbad. And it goes to the constitutionality of it. Asks you to put on your, your lawyer's hat for a minute, I guess. "Secretary Bowen, the proposed ballot initiative for California that would change the way in which electoral votes are divided up in presidential elections is unconstitutional. Article II, Section I explicitly states that the State shall appoint a number of electors 'in such a manner as the legislature thereof my direct.' The method in which the electors are chosen may not be changed by a ballot initiative, it must be changed by the legislature. My question is, are you going to allow the G.O.P. to get away with this dirty trick?"

Bowen: (laughs) Well, remember that my job in this office is that referee's shirt, and it's striped. But the Constitution has a referee's shirt on, too. And I've read that provision and I've read a legal opinion on it and I agree that it is something that can only be changed by the legislature. I don't think there's any confusion about the meaning of the word 'legislature.' But that doesn't change the fact that if this goes on the ballot, if people sign it, it will take an enormous education effort so that people understand what it's about. And that's because on its surface there's a lot of appeal from a standpoint of fairness. We all like to have elections that are fair and why not have a system in which votes are assigned, electors are assigned proportionally? May answer to that is that's fine if you want to do that in all 50 states, but to cherry-pick states in which you're going to create, use that system, and then states in which you're going to acidulously stick with winner-take-all, there's nothing fair about that. That's, that's just political gamesmanship. So if we get that far it's just going to be very expensive and, in the campaign, and I think part of the purpose of it is to draw opponents into a battle even if it eventually can't go into effect.

Jacobs: And you mentioned at the outset that you, this is circulating and you expect it to qualify?

Bowen: Well, I wouldn't be surprised if it qualified. I mean, basically the wisdom among the political cognoscenti in California is that if you had, if you have $2 million you can qualify an initiative that declares that your mother-in-law is a dog, you know, or an angel, either one, or both, simultaneously, simultaneously if you have $4 million. I mean, people in California, I wish they would ask questions before they sign, I wish the Governor had signed my bill that would require that the initiative petitions say in great big letters whether the person is a volunteer or is paid, I wish the Governor had signed my proposal to require that the top five contributors to the initiative be printed at the top of the petition on page one in big, fat type so that people can understand whether it is moneyed interests that are pushing this or whether it's really what was the intention of the initiative process, which is a check on both inaction and on the abuse of power by the legislature. Somebody who's got $2 million to drop in six weeks isn't pushing something that needs to go through that process.

Jacobs: I remember very well, and people on this call may remember, that about a year and a half ago Courage Campaign also tried to put through an initiative to reform the initiative process, only in California, right? Only in California. Because we generally don't know who's behind these things. Yes, there's some disclosure, but it's a business. It's an initiative industrial complex. And I applaud you for taking a stand on this issue and saying it's just, it is not fair, and I know that the people who are on this call and lots and lots of other people, we've had about 10,000 people so far sign a petition at, and we've had people sign that petition saying, taking a pledge to oppose this dirty trick. Because that's really all it can be seen as. I mean, when you talk about there's another branch that has a referee's shirt on for other issues, well, that's the judiciary and I think more than a few of us might remember that the one vote that made George Bush president in 2000 was from the Supreme Court. So we can't afford to let this thing pass, at least from our perspective.

Julia, do you want to go to another question?

Rosen: Sure, pivoting to another topic here, E. Wallace from Redwood City asks, "Is and will there be a required procedure to protect the integrity of vote-by-mail documents upon their receipt by election departments, their counting and reporting, and safeguarding for possible recounts and audits?" She states she is an election precinct inspector and a member of our Democratic County Central Committee.

Bowen: That, those procedures should be part of the security plan that counties prepare. And they're very important, the chain of custody issues and the observation of the process of opening the ballots and comparing the signatures, and then the requirement that that be separate from the process of actually opening the ballot envelope for privacy reasons, are really critical. So yes, there will be requirements, although I think most counties at this point do a pretty good job of handling absentee ballots, making sure that they're processed in one location. Many have cameras, for their own protection, honestly, because you don't want to be in a situation if you're a county official where absentee ballots made the difference and you can't prove that they were in one place and that nothing happened. So it's as critical when dealing with paper as it is with any other medium to deal with physical security and chain of custody and transparency.

Jacobs: On that issue, by the way, a lot of people who are activists and are really, really concerned about these issues and who are big supporters of yours, ask questions about absentee ballots and wonder what to do about the chain of custody. What, what do you say to folks who are extremely well-intentioned and extremely concerned, what do you say about the use of vote-by-mail chain of custody?

Bowen: Well, first you're dealing with the U.S. Postal Service. Which actually has a pretty good track record of mail delivery. And no, it's not perfect. I somewhere have a half an envelope that I got in a plastic bag with a note that explains that the rest of it is somewhere in pieces in the mail processing equipment, but if 50 more people vote in a precinct than would have if they'd had to come in person and you lose one of the ballots, you still have a huge increase in participation. That being said, it is really critical, the custody requirements and the processing requirements. Many people don't know that absentee ballots are verified just like polling place paper ballots. The signature of the voter is compared, which is something that is not done with someone who votes at the polling place. They're paper ballots, they are recorded, they can be counted and recounted as many times as people would like to count them, and so in that, it's really just a question of making sure that the custody requirements are met with ballots coming in, some of them beforehand.

One of the things I've worked to do is to give voters the ability to know that their absentee ballot actually arrived at the Registrar of Voters, because for many people that's been an issue, how do I know my ballot even got there? And starting this year counties will have websites in which a voter who's mailed their ballot can check to see if it has arrived. Something else that we have to work on is signature match issues. So that if there's a situation in which the signature on the absentee ballot doesn't match the signature on the voter registration card, the voter can be made aware of that so they can fill out a new voter registration card. That is something that's not uncommon just with age. If you took my signature when I was 18 and compared it to my signature on my driver's license right now you probably wouldn't get a match. And I think likewise if you took my dad's signature when he 40 and compared it with his signature as a senior citizen, you might not get a match there, either. So we need to work on some of those issues but we know that turnout improves if people get their ballots automatically, if they sign up to become permanent vote-by-mail voters. So I'd like to work on the issues of custody and on getting the message out that in California the ballot has to arrive at the polling place on election day but it doesn't have to arrive in your polling place, anywhere in your county is fine, and make sure that people know that if they're voting absentee and they didn't manage to get their ballot in the mail by the Friday before that they can still go to the polling place and vote provisionally in person or that they can then drop the ballot off. I discourage people from putting anything in the mail after Friday because of that cutoff date. I just hate to see people's ballots coming in on Wednesday and having them not be counted for that reason.

Jacobs: I would like to encourage people who are on the call again, and this call will be on our website for some time if people are listening to it and we'll also be doing summaries of it, if people have questions or concerns about the security on absentee ballots or further comments, I would encourage them to come to and you can go to the Election Protection group, you can send us emails and I think we should continue the conversation and maybe some other ideas will come up, but I think it's important for that issue to be …

Bowen: Rick, it strikes me that there's another place where people who are concerned about the custody should really learn what they're local procedures are. They may be surprised to find out how the county handles the absentee ballots. I don't know for every county, I have seen how it works in some counties and literally, you know, mail comes in, the room has four 24-hour video cameras that record every second of what happens there, one set of people compares the signature, opens the envelope and removes the inner ballot and puts it in a tray for processing, an entirely different set of workers open that ballot, inner ballot, which no longer has any affiliation with the name of the voter, so you don't have a privacy issue, and then if there are issues, if there are issues remaining even after that, then we can work on the details and the right issues.

Jacobs: Great. Julia, do you have another question?

Question: Sure. She actually mentioned sleepovers a minute ago, and as people read your security migration [sic] [she meant "mitigation"] requirements in the voting system recertification document, it seems clear that the so-called voting machine sleepovers would now be outlawed by those restrictions, which seems to require that systems remain in the possession of two elections officials at all times. However, some CA registrars including Gail Pellerin from Santa Cruz as recently has Friday has stated that she plans on sending machines home on sleepovers again in 2008. Can you give us a definitive word on whether such sleepovers will be allowed in 2008, particularly given your findings that machines such as Sequoia DREs can have their security shields violated without notice?

Bowen: Sleepovers don't comply with the security requirements. It's really simple. You know, I mean for everyone who's argued that security by obscurity is what keeps our votes safe, in other words, that nobody has access to the equipment, having anything out there for days or weeks before just goes in exactly the wrong direction. And I don't want this to be seen as a slam at poll workers, because if 99.999% of poll workers are honest, and probably more than that are, that's terrific, but all it takes is one person somewhere who uses a particular kind of equipment and because these, the machines, are exactly the same wherever they're used throughout the world, if access, if there is access, unauthorized access to one piece of polling place equipment that allows somebody to figure out a hack or to change something then everybody else anywhere in the world who uses that equipment is potentially at risk.

So security needs to be layered. I believe it should be built into the equipment. It also ought to be enhanced by physical security measures including delivery of equipment on the morning of an election or secure custody using the two-person rule.

Jacobs: Great. Do you have one last question, Julia?

Rosen: Yes, I do. Linda Jay from Walnut Creek asks, "Some radio and TV commentators have suggested that your decertification of voting machines will cause confusion and voting problems. What can you do to ensure that the elections will be held without majority disruption?"

Bowen: Well, I don't think that the decertification of voting machines will cause confusion and--what was the other thing?

Rosen: Confusion and voting problems.

Bowen: I don't think so. Throughout the 157 years of California's statehood, people have been voting on paper for all but a handful of years. Two-thirds to three-quarters of Californians are already voting on paper ballots, over half on paper ballots put in the mail, and these are systems that every registrar in California is familiar with, the optical scan systems, because all counties use them for their vote-by-mail or absentee program, which has been a requirement of California law for a long time. California has been ahead of the pack in requiring that people be allowed to cast a vote by mail for any reason. You don't have to be sick, planning to be sick, or whatever else Ferris Bueller might have imagined, in order to vote absentee. So, in a few counties registrars will be asking their voters to go back to systems that they are familiar with. I also think that just the reality is that almost everybody in this country is familiar with the fill-in-the-bubble type system for doing a wide variety of things. You can't take a driver's license test without encountering a fill-in-the-bubble. It's just widely used. Anybody who's been in, who's under 50 who's been in school, at least, has done plenty of fill-in-the-bubble. And I don't think it's confusing. You do get some people who check, make a check mark or an X or draw a flower in the bubble rather than filling it in. And the manual audits are designed to catch that kind of problem and to determine, and to determine whether or not it is of such a scale that further counts are in order.

And one thing I didn't mention is that the new auditing requirements have an escalation process built into them. So that in races that are closer, the, an additional number of ballots will be audited until you get to the point where you can say with certainty that the result is accurate. And that's new. That's not something that's ever been done before. So where we have close races we will see further auditing. And I think that's an appropriate concentration of resources in the right races. There's really no point in recounting a race in which there's a 25% margin. There's a lot of point in recounting races where there's a very close margin.

Jacobs: Well, thank you very, very much. We're just about to the finish of the hour and we really, really appreciate the time that you've given us. Julia, thank you for moderating and coming up with a representative sample of the questions. I'm sure that we didn't get to all of the ones that were asked but we tried very hard to, as I say, get a representative sample. I would like to encourage people who are on the call, again, please check in with us,, and you can send emails there, you can, we can help you set up blogs there and so on.

To summarize briefly, it sounds to me, anyway, as if we have--no big surprise here--a highly competent person leading the way to make sure that as many people as possible can vote in this state and that their votes are counted. And we can ask for no more than that right now. I think it's just terrific what the Secretary of State has managed to do in a really, really short time. You haven't been in office even a year yet, and it's extraordinary.

And then some other points that came out that I think are really important, going forward. Is that this sort of activism that people evidence through Courage Campaign and through other means matters. We were able to provide some support to the Secretary of State at a time in which it was necessary. There are lots and lots of people on this call and elsewhere who are going to be there to help look at the vote-counting procedure and we'll be organizing around that. There are lots of people who have other suggestions. Those will, I'm sure, be of interest to the Secretary of State. And then, finally, we heard definitively that this ballot initiative that is likely to end up on the June ballot, the "Presidential Reform Initiative" is really what we said, I mean it really is a dirty trick. And we encourage you to go to, and sign up, and you'll be getting more updates. On Wednesday we'll be providing some more very interesting information in a video format about that.

And, Secretary Bowen, do you want to add some final words?

Bowen: I just want to thank people for their interest and concern. And many people have been working on this issue since very early on and I think they've been able to take off the metaphorical tin hat as people figured out that the issues they were concerned about were real issues. And it is my goal to be able to put the issues about process behind us to the greatest extent that you can in a democracy, where eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and free up an enormous amount of people's time and effort to be able to work on the major policy issues of our day, whatever is most important to people, but not--I'd much rather see a society in which people can focus on health care, climate change, education, and not have to worry about audit procedures and voting equipment. So that's my goal in doing this. And it takes a little bit of stirring the pot up front, but the more transparent we make things, the more reason that people will have to be able to trust the results, and I think the better off that the country will be in the future. So thank you.

Jacobs: Thank you, and thanks everyone for being on the call. This will be on our website, the audio will be on our website in the next few days and we'll let people know about that. So thanks again, and have a good evening.

Bowen: Thank you.


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