March 3, 2009 By Steve Towns
In August 2007 -- just months before the Feb. 5, 2008, presidential primary -- California Secretary of State Debra Bowen pulled the plug on the use of e-voting machines in the state.
The decision didn't endear Bowen to e-voting machine vendors or California counties, which had sunk $450 million into new voting hardware. But Bowen contends that she had no choice after commissioning exhaustive security reviews of touchscreen e-voting technology, formally known as direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines.
"It was really clear that there was no way we could guarantee existing equipment in the field had not already been compromised, and that we could not prevent compromises from affecting future elections," she said in a 2008 interview with Government Technology.
Bowen's stand garnered national recognition in May 2008, when the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation chose her for its John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. The award recognizes public officials who make tough decisions without regard to personal or professional consequences.
The decision also put Bowen -- a longtime technology proponent -- in the unusual position of delaying improvements that e-voting advocates contended were long overdue.
As a rookie lawmaker in 1993, she authored a bill that put California legislative information online -- a first in the nation. That same year, Bowen sought to become the first California lawmaker with an official e-mail address. She was successful, but only after winning special permission from the Assembly Rules Committee.
Bowen said her experience with technology helped her spot security flaws in e-voting technology. "The more time someone has spent on the inside of the software and computer industry, the more likely they are to express to me their concerns about relying on computers for tallying and recording the vote," she said. "People who have been inside know all the things that can go wrong."
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