SECRETARY of State Debra Bowen pleased almost no one by decertifying touch-screen voting machines in California.

She banned all but limited use of most touch-screen machines unless counties can implement improved security features. That includes Sequoia Voting Systems, Diebold Election Systems and Hart InterCivic mechanisms used by many of the state's 58 counties, raising questions about how next February's presidential primary may be affected.

It ruffled the feathers of the machines' manufacturers, who have been under attack for flaws and problems with high-tech voting systems the past few years. And, county election officials, who've spent millions supposedly improving and modernizing their voting systems since the 2000 presidential election debacle, are none too happy either.

Bowen decertified the three systems (a fourth, Election Systems and Software, did not submit equipment in time to be tested) after they were found to be flawed in an eight-week "top-to-bottom review" by University of California computer experts. It affects voters in Alameda, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Marin and Napa counties, among others. UC found that the voting machines were vulnerable to hackers and surmised that votes and results could be changed under the right circumstances. County election officials argue that the tests were hastily done, not conducted in a manner that mirrored actual election procedures — or safeguards — and were therefore unrealistic.

Bowen restricted counties with touch-screen systems to one per polling place and said every vote cast on such machines must be recounted by hand. County election officials say this could lead to long lines at the polls, gridlock on election day and late results. That may be crying wolf, but we concede that no voting system is impervious to corruption and manipulation.

Bowen favors an optical scan system in which voters use paper ballots that are counted electronically. She says it's easier for voters to see and understand that election process. Others who share her misgivings about touch-screen systems helped get Bowen elected last fall.

It's also a fact that touch-screen systems have been somewhat unreliable and subject to glitches and suspicions of their vulnerability for years. Manufacturers have had to constantly update and revise equipment in efforts to make it less vulnerable, more reliable. So much so that Bowen was criticized by some allies for not totally banning the machines and for giving counties a way out of their quandary in time to use some touchscreens Feb. 5.

But realistically, she was caught between a rock and a hard place, having been in office only a few months. Flaws were found in the machinery and how they operate. But it's also unrealistic for counties to completely scrap multimillion dollar systems and replace them by Feb. 5.

This page also has favored counties reverting back to voters using paper ballots counted by electronic scanners. It's not a perfect system — none is — but it has been reliable and has fewer intrinsic problems than touch-screen voting. Until the latter is found to be flawless and impenetrable, paper ballots and scanners apparently will — and should be — California's voting method of choice.