Secretary Bowen reflects on June 5’s successes and failures

150 150 Caroline Vance

Photo by Caroline Vance

Debra BowenCalifornia Secretary of State, joined Mark Baldassare, President & CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), to debrief last week’s historic election and to share insights from her unique vantage point as the state’s chief elections officer who oversees state and federal elections.

Secretary Bowen suggested that trying to draw conclusions about each reform and what happened last week is a “little like looking back at your freshman year of college and deciding if it was the beer or the pizza that caused you to gain 15 pounds – when really it was a combination of many things.”

Much has and will continue to be said about California’s first ever primary election with top two voting and under state and congressional lines drawn by an the independent Citizens Redistricting Commission but the Washington Post has declared that California’s election reforms are “off to a good start”.

“California has been at it again – we have experimented with a new policy and run the risk of the rest of the nation following,” said Eric McGhee, PPIC fellow and co-author of California’s New Electoral Reforms: How Did They Work? reminded the room Tuesday evening at PPIC headquarters.

Secretary Bowen duly noted, however, that voter turnout was “abysmal and the single most disappointing thing to me,” despite being a Presidential primary which historically has a higher turnout.

[Watch CAFwd’s video piece on the low voter turnout right here]

When asked what her office was doing to combat such low turnout she responded that the voter registration piece is the easiest to address and that they are on track to roll out online voter registration by Labor Day.  She touted this as not only a way to get more people registered and therefore eligible to vote but also as a cost-saver for counties – many of whose registrars’ offices have to manually enter all forms under the current system. 

In addition to online registration, the Secretary of State and Public Instruction encourage students starting in 6th grade to participate in MyVote Student Mock Election to get them involved and make voting a habit.  This year several thousand students participated across the state though Secretary Bowen said her goal was for all schools and students to take part.

But ultimately she reflected, “If someone doesn’t find it in their interest to vote, we don’t make them. Why [they don’t find it in their interest] is a continuing source of agony for someone that is a bully for democracy.”

Secretary Bowen said that she would like to leave a legacy of viewing elections process from an election audit engineering standpoint so if a mistake is made in one place then everyone can learn from it as well as having transparency in the voting process itself.


Caroline Vance

All stories by: Caroline Vance