SACRAMENTO – California’s top elections official next month will begin the first comprehensive review of the reliability and potential vulnerability of voting systems used throughout the state. But if significant problems are found, next year’s early presidential primary will challenge election officials to come up with alternatives: “Not having an election isn’t one of them,” Secretary of State Debra Bowen told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. Bowen, a Democrat and former state legislator, defeated incumbent Republican Bruce McPherson in November in part by questioning the reliability of electronic voting machines. During the campaign, she said voters had a “crisis in confidence” in the machines that have replaced paper balloting in many of California’s 58 counties. Previously disclosed problems include the discovery nearly a year ago that a feature on the widely used Diebold Election Systems computerized machines could allow someone to upload unauthorized software. Bowen said she will begin her review of voting systems in early May and expects to finish in August to give local officials enough time to make any required changes. She wants to ensure that all systems meet standards her office is developing for accuracy and reliability. They also must be resistant to tampering by hackers or election workers and be accessible to those with disabilities. But if problems are discovered, the time to fix them will be compressed now that California has moved its presidential primary from June to Feb. 5. The options will be to decertify the machines and search for a replacement system or to certify the machines conditionally. That could mean elections officials will conduct random audits of certain machines on election day and perhaps require hand recounts of ballots, she said. “That’s the big challenge we’re going to have,” Bowen said. “You have to conduct the election, and you can’t conduct the election by giving people a box and different colored marbles. So you’ve got to find a way to make it work.” She said casino slot machines often are subject to greater scrutiny and security safeguards than voting machines. Bowen’s top-to-bottom review has been criticized by some county election officials, who say it is unnecessary after McPherson ordered machines to be tested last year. “They went through the most rigorous testing that has ever been done. What is the rationale for doing it all over again?” said Conny McCormack, Los Angeles County’s registrar-recorder. Electronic voting systems worked well in California during last November’s election, she said. McCormack said she fears that Bowen is predisposed to reject the use of some systems. If she does, McCormack said, counties will not have enough time to replace their voting machines before the February presidential primary. A rushed review of the machines could result in finger-pointing if problems arise, further undermining voter confidence, said Stephen Weir, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and Contra Costa County’s registrar-recorder. Nevertheless, he said, Bowen’s effort will be worthwhile if it increases voter confidence in electronic balloting. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!