Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Nevada lawmakers question need to replace Sequoia Advantage e-voting machines

Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller, the first election official in the country to implement electronic voting machines with a voter verified paper trail statewide, urged state lawmakers on Monday to allocate $15 million to upgrade Clark County's electronic voting equipment.

Clark County, home to Las Vegas as well as 80 percent of Nevada's residents, was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to purchase paperless electronic voting machines. Last year, Secretary of State Heller contracted with Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems to purchase the company's "Edge" touchscreen machines with a voter verified paper record feature included. The new touchscreens with printers were used throughout the state in last year's elections; in Clark County, a mix of new machines and the older Advantage machines were used.

Heller wants to replace the old Advantage machines in Clark County with newer Edge machines equipped with the Sequoia printer, called the "Verivote". However, some state lawmakers are balking at the expense and say the upgrade isn't necessary.

Here are some excerpts from the May 2 Associated Press story by Elizabeth White:


A Nevada Senate panel on Monday questioned the need for new voting machines in the Las Vegas-area, saying the county's current technology may not have to be replaced.


"What if that cartridge fails?" Heller asked after the hearing, noting a number of instances in the 2004 general elections across the country where several kinds of voting machines allegedly failed to record accurate votes.

Sixteen of Nevada's 17 counties used only the newer voter-verified machines - bought with federal dollars through the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA - last fall. There are pending requests for more federal funding that would be used to replace the older models in Clark County.


Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said that since the old and new machines comply with HAVA, the state has the option to replace the older models as they break or wait until federal funding is available. He also said both versions of machines offer the voter a way to review their ballot on the screen before casting it for good.

"The verification that's offered here is illusory at best," Beers said of the new models. "You do have a visual presentation of how your whole ballot looks with either system."

Beers said granting the funding request would be a waste of taxpayer dollars, but Heller said that without giving voters the option to review their ballot on paper, "it's garbage in, garbage out."

"If you're accusing me of blowing money, please show me how," Heller continued.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, wondered why Clark County can't pay for the machines with its own revenues.

"I just hate the thought of throwing all of those away," she said, adding that one option might be to replace some of the machines so voters can choose to use those if they're worried.

Dan Musgrove, a lobbyist for Clark County, said the county originally thought the machines' manufacturer would be able to retrofit the old machines to provide voter verification, but that was deemed to be more expensive than replacing the machines altogether.

Denying the request would mean the county would be required to pay for something out of its own pocket other counties didn't have to, Musgrove said.

While Beers said he hasn't received any complaints from his constituents about lack of voter verification, Larry Lomax, Clark County's registrar of voters, said he received about 100.

And Heller told lawmakers that $15 million is a small price to pay to secure democracy and raise the level of reliability.

"I think it would be tremendously irresponsible to tell Clark County voters, 'You're not valuable enough to verify your own votes but the rest of the state can'," he said.

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