A pioneer in open government reform, election integrity, and personal privacy rights, Debra Bowen became only the sixth woman in California history elected to a statewide constitutional office when she was elected as Secretary of State in 2006. Secretary Bowen was reelected to her second term in November 2010.
Secretary Bowen has followed through with her commitment to opening up government by making the agency's work as transparent and accessible as possible. As the chief elections officer for the largest state in the nation, Secretary Bowen is responsible for overseeing state and federal elections—a role that includes helping to carry out election laws and campaign disclosure requirements, certifying the official lists of candidates for each election, tracking ballot initiatives, compiling election returns, certifying the election results for all state and federal contests, and testing and approving the voting equipment used in California. During her first term, Bowen also expanded voter education in creative new ways and fought for increased accountability of private-sector election contractors.
Secretary Bowen's goal to ensure that systems approved for use in California elections are secure, accurate, reliable and accessible was at the heart of her decision to commission a groundbreaking top-to-bottom review of the systems during her first term in office. After the 2007 top-to-bottom review (conducted by independent teams of experts) revealed significant flaws, Secretary Bowen strengthened the security and operational requirements for systems used in California elections. For her efforts, Secretary Bowen was recognized with the 2008 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage AwardTM, the nation's most prestigious honor for elected public servants who choose principles over partisanship.
Beyond her elections role, Secretary Bowen is charged with managing a number of other programs for the people of California. As Secretary of State, Bowen:
First elected in 1992 to represent the 53rd Assembly District in west Los Angeles County, Secretary Bowen served three terms before being elected to represent the 28th Senate District in 1998. She then served two terms in the Senate until she was elected Secretary of State in 2006.
Prior to being elected Secretary of State, Bowen served six years in the State Assembly (1992-1998) and eight years in the State Senate (1998-2006). As a legislator, Secretary Bowen authored several election-related laws designed to boost integrity, including measures related to verifiable paper trails and public audits.
Early in her legislative career, Secretary Bowen championed the use of the Internet to open government to computer users worldwide and worked with community-based groups to close the digital divide. In 1993, Secretary Bowen authored the first-in-the-world law that put legislative information online, giving the public access to information about California bills, committee analyses, state legislators' voting records and much more. The law has served as a model for other U.S. states and countries. Secretary Bowen was also the first California lawmaker to voluntarily put her campaign finance reports online in 1995, several years before all candidates for state office were required to do so.
As a longtime advocate of personal privacy, Secretary Bowen authored landmark consumer protection laws to equip people with the tools they need to safeguard their important information. Today, the impact of Secretary Bowen's far-reaching work makes it more difficult for criminals to commit identity theft by banning businesses and government agencies from using social security numbers as public identifiers, requiring credit card numbers to be removed from receipts kept by merchants, giving people the right to freeze access to their credit reports, and giving people the tools to fight back against unsolicited email and fax advertising.
At different points during her time in the Legislature, Secretary Bowen chaired the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee; the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee; and the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. At the national level, she chaired the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) E-Communications Steering Committee, served on NCSL's Executive Board, and was California's appointee to the NCSL Task Force on State and Local Taxation of Telecommunications and Electronic Commerce.
Secretary Bowen was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated from Michigan State University in 1976. After earning her law degree at the University of Virginia, she practiced corporate, tax and ERISA law at Winston & Strawn in Chicago and in Washington, D.C., at the Los Angeles office of Wall Street firm Hughes, Hubbard & Reed; and as a sole practitioner in Los Angeles. Secretary Bowen first volunteered her legal services as a member of the Heal the Bay Legal Committee, and eventually her practice grew to include environmental and land use cases, as well as tax and business matters.
Secretary Bowen is married to Mark Nechodom, Director of the California Department of Conservation.
Updated March 2012