Debra Bowen Appoints Lowell Finley of Election Integrity Watchdog Group to Role of 'Deputy SoS for Voting Systems Technology and Policy'
[UPDATED] Critics of E-Voting Hail News as 'Collosal Suprise,' Very Good for Voters, Very Bad for the Nation's Electronic Voting Machine Companies...
By Brad Friedman on 1/8/2007, 2:31pm PT  

It may not be a very good day in the corporate offices at Diebold, but The BRAD BLOG has learned some big news that may well indicate today is a very good day indeed for the voters of America and specifically in California.

As incoming Sec. of State Debra Bowen was sworn in to her new office just moments ago, The BRAD BLOG can now reveal that one of the nation's top critics of unverifiable electronic voting systems --- and a key player across several states in the legal battles against voting machine companies such as Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Hart Intercivic --- is today being named by the new California Sec. of State Debra Bowen as Deputy SoS for Voting Systems Technology and Policy.

Lowell Finley, the lead attorney for the non-partisan voting machine legal watchdog organization, will be named to the position today.

In his new capacity, Finley will oversee testing and certification for all voting machine technology in the State of California. In a phone call this morning, Finley confirmed that he would be working closely in his new role with key national associations like the National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC).

E-voting critics and at least one California Registrar of Voters have hailed both the swearing in of Bowen as SoS and her appointment of Finley, expressing delight to The BRAD BLOG over the news, characterizing it as a "colossal surprise" and a "very, very good sign for the future of voters' rights in California."

America's voting machine companies are less likely to feel quite as happy about the news.

Finley and VoterAction have filed a number of landmark lawsuits in several states, including in California, over the past year or so, demanding an immediate halt to the use and purchase of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE/touch-screen) voting systems and decertification of many of those systems, as well as improved processes for certification of such systems.

VoterAction is one of over 30 Election Reform organizations who recently went on record with an open letter to Members of Congress demanding federal legislation requiring a paper ballot for every vote cast in America. Such legislation would effectively ban the use of DRE systems, with or without a so-callled "Voter Verified Paper Trail" (VVPAT).

Bowen has been a dogged critic of former Secretary of State Bruce McPherson during her candidacy and in her role overseeing the Elections Committee as a California State Senator. She has criticized his lack of oversight and lax testing procedures, and has championed a "Voters' Bill of Rights" for the Golden State.

While a suit by filed against former SoS McPherson and several CA Registrars of Voting --- concerning McPherson's certification of Diebold TSx touch-screen systems --- is still pending in state court, the disposition of that suit will likely change due to the fact that the lead defendant, McPherson, is no longer in office.

The Berkeley-based attorney Finley --- also one of the attorneys representing voter plaintiffs in the contested election in Florida's 13th Congressional district in Sarasota --- had one of his most recent and notable successes last September, when a Colorado judge ordered a complete review of certification procedures for voting machines in the state. The court found the official placed in charge of testing and certification didn't have the qualifications necessary, and performed little or no testing. That man, John Gardner, was appointed by former CO Sec. of State Donetta Davidson, who has been appointed by George W. Bush to head the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

The news of Finley's appointment will undoubtedly be of concern to the major voting machine companies that received little oversight from the former Sec. of State McPherson.

"I wish I was a fly on the wall in the offices at Diebold as they learn of this appointment. I'm sure jaws will be dropping and damage control will be ramping up," John Gideon of election watchdog organization told us today. (Gideon is also a frequent Guest Blogger here at The BRAD BLOG.) ...

Finley told The BRAD BLOG today that "VoterAction's work goes on unabated, and there will be an interim legal director, fully qualified to step into my role in the Sarasota [FL-13] case and the other pending cases."

"While the news of this appointment was, at first, a shock because I initially saw us losing an integral part of the Election Integrity community, that shock turned to happiness as I realized that Lowell would be stepping into a position where his actions would influence the actions of elections officials nationally," said Gideon.

Yolo County Registrar-Clerk Freddie Oakley also tells us she's very happy with the appointment. As a long time fan of Bowen's, Oakley wrote us this afternoon to say, "She has never disappointed me. She has always been just about the smartest person in the room, and she also has the gift of restraint and self-examination."

She, as well, was delighted at the appointment of Finley. "I think Bowen's appointment of Lowell Finley is a very, very good sign for the future of voters' rights in California," she wrote. "Lowell is a smart, upright guy with a clean, unencumbered history. What a great combination! Bowen's careful, practical intelligence, her deeply held values and Finley's immense energy for justice and his natural intellectual appetite. I expect some really colossal surprises!"

In addition to the Florida and California cases, VoterAction suits are still pending in Ohio, Pennsylvania and on appeal in Arizona. A lawsuit by the group in New Mexico after the 2004 Election was seen a key factor in that state's new policy banning DRE voting systems and requiring a paper ballot for every vote cast.

Finley will take his post beginning tomorrow. An interim legal director to replace Finley at VoterAction will be announced within the next ten days, pending approval from their Board of Directors.

Bowen was sworn into office at 2pm PST this afternoon. (The ceremony is available via video webcast live at this address.) News of her plans for office, including a "top to bottom review" of voting systems certified by her predecessor and her view that voting machine "sleepovers" with pollworkers prior to Election Day are in fact "illegal" can be found in this BRAD BLOG story posted late last week.

Neither Diebold nor Sequoia Voting Systems have immediately returned our calls seeking comment on the appointment. We'll update this story if and when appropriate. (See update below for a response from Sequoia sent to us the next day.)

UPDATE 1/9/07: Sequoia Voting Systems' spokesperson Michelle Shafer contacted us via email this morning in response to our request for comment:

Hi Brad -

I am sorry I could not return your call yesterday afternoon as I was traveling.

You left me a voice mail asking about Sequoia's reaction to the appointment of Lowell Finley to the position of Deputy SOS of CA for Voting Systems Technology and Policy by newly elected CA SOS Bowen.

We send our congratulations to Mr. Finley and wish him the best in his new endeavor with the California Secretary of State's Office. We look forward to meeting with Mr. Finley, Secretary Bowen and other members of the Secretary's new team and engaging in productive dialogue about accurate, secure and accessible elections in the State of California.

Thank you for contacting me, Brad.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Finley would take his post in ten days. We regret the error.