July 29, 2008 By Steve Towns, Editor
electronic voting, I was very disturbed. This was before I ever even thought about running [for secretary of state]. I read them, and I knew that technologically what I was reading was real and that you could hide your tracks pretty readily if you had the ability to tamper with systems. People have focused on voters tampering. The bigger concern is insiders, either in the company that makes the systems or in an election. We don't background test. We don't have any independent means of verifying the software, and that's the reason I have chosen to beef up California's post-election auditing standards. We now have the original record that the voter created, but unless we know when we should go back to that and use it, it's just so much paper sitting in a warehouse.
GT: The current presidential race seems to be capturing more interest from young voters. Are you using technology to engage those voters?
Bowen: The candidates this year are doing a greater job of raising the interest in voting than any secretary of state could do. I do have a Facebook page and have worked to look for new means of engaging younger voters. I have an advisory group - we call them the "edgy group." They're looking at what the future will be, not just of voting, but of engagement and how young people will get information about candidates and how they will get active. Facebook is one way that they do that with the groups and events.
I think the generation that spends all of its time texting each other will likely take on the challenge of finding a more convenient way to vote. It will be a challenge because you have the problem of verifying who's actually voting. In most of the technology that we have right now that allows someone to vote remotely, they're given an access code, which could easily be sold. So that's not a technological problem, but it is an issue. The other problem is suitability because the vote, unlike any other transaction on a normal basis, has to be private. So the minute we sign a voter in, from there on we can't know anything about what it is they have done. That's what makes auditing from a system perspective so challenging.
GT: Ten years ago you said it was unlikely that people would be voting over the Internet. A lot has changed since then, but you still can't foresee the day people will vote on cell phones or online?
Bowen: I can't foresee it, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. Right now the challenges of identifying who is actually voting and making sure there hasn't been a compromise in the system is too great. I think most people think, "I'd love to be able to vote from my home computer." But then they think about all the spam they get, and then they think about their antivirus software and how hard they have to work to keep something nasty from coming in. So I think we're just not there at this point.
GT: Internet voting is happening in some countries. How do they handle it?
Bowen: The number is fairly small. I do know that in Switzerland, which has Internet voting, the vote is not private. So if you aren't voting privately, you eliminate a lot of concerns because you personally can check if your vote is recorded correctly, but so can your neighbor, boss, spouse or grandma. We in this country have valued our ability to walk into the voting booth and not have anyone know how we voted.
GT: Government IT professionals complain that many legislators don't understand technology issues. As a former state lawmaker,
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