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 been committed to opening up government, 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 oversees state and federal elections—a role that includes helping to carry out election laws and campaign disclosure requirements, tracking ballot measures, certifying election results, and testing and approving the voting equipment used in California. Bowen also expanded voter education and civic engagement in creative ways, and fought for increased accountability of private-sector election contractors.
In 2012 Secretary Bowen launched a brand new system to allow any eligible Californian to register to vote online. To build the RegisterToVote.ca.gov system, Secretary Bowen first secured federal funding to minimize the cost to California taxpayers, then built a secure pipeline between the Secretary of State, the State Department of Motor Vehicles and each of the 58 county elections offices, and established security that protects applicants' privacy. The Center for Digital Government recognized the system with an award for Best Application Serving the Public in California.
Secretary Bowen's goal to ensure that voting systems approved for use in California elections are secure, accurate, reliable and accessible was at the heart of her decision in 2007 to commission a groundbreaking top-to-bottom review of the systems. After the review (conducted by independent teams of computer science experts) revealed significant flaws in many of the systems, 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 Award, the nation's most prestigious honor for elected public servants who choose principles over partisanship.
Beyond her elections roles, Secretary Bowen manages a number of other programs for the people of California. As Secretary of State, Bowen:
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 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.
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 May 2014