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Nevada defuses some criticism

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/10/04

Elections officials in Nevada believe they have defused much of the criticism of electronic voting by adding so-called voter-verified paper audit trails to many of its voting machines. Officials in Georgia have so far resisted including such a paper trail on the state's 24,500 Diebold touchscreen voting machines expected to be used in the Nov. 2 general election. Here's a look at how the paper trail works in Nevada and a partial critique by Georgia elections officials of the system.


Nevada's Sequoia AVC Edge machines are similar to Georgia's Diebold AccuTouch TS machines. Voters are given a card which they into the machine to begin voting. A ballot appears and voters make their choices by touching the screen. The key difference: In Georgia, voters are done after reviewing the entire ballot on the screen and pressing "Cast Ballot." In Nevada, after a voter has made his ions, a screen appears reading "Touch here to print and review a paper record of your ballot." After pressing the screen a small printer attached to the machine begins to print a copy of the voter's ions, much like a grocery store receipt shows items purchased. The voter-verified audit trail can only be viewed under plastic and cannot be taken by the voter. It scrolls into a locked box. If the voter is satisfied the ions reflected on the paper match with his choices on the screen, he then can press "cast ballot" and the paper scrolls out of view. If the voter believes the paper does not match with his choices, or if he wants to make last minute changes, he can cancel the paper ballot and vote again. If the paper trail is canceled, it prints "VOIDED" in large black letters across the bottom and scrolls out of view.


Nevada elections officials say the paper trails give voters confidence that the ions made on the computer screen match a paper record. Kathy Rogers, director of the elections administration divison for the Georgia Secretary of State, and Brit Williams, a technological consultant on electronic voting for the state working with Kennesaw State University's Center for Election Systems, visited Las Vegas in August, along with elections officials throughout the nation, to see how the state's voter-verified audit trails work.

Below are some of Rogers' and Williams' concerns in bold and responses in from Nevada elections officials in italics.

The paper rolls that record a voters' ballot continues to scroll even after a voter has left the booth, possibly allowing the next voter to view how the person before them voted. Voter anonymity could be compromised.

Elections officials in Nevada say they are aware of that outside possibility and are working to make sure there is a brief gap between voters to try to decrease the likelihood of that happening.

The printers that produce the paper rolls are difficult to service and maintain and will increase the difficulty of conducting elections.

The printers are easy to attach and remove from the machines. An extra printer is kept in each precinct to replace any that jam or malfunction. A team of roving troubleshooters hired in Clark County, Nev., will help poll workers with any printer problems.

Because the paper rolls that print the ballots keeps votes in successive order, it would be easy — particularly in a small precinct with only one or two voting machines— to see how somone voted by simply looking inside the box.

The boxes that keep the rolls are secured with a numbered plastic seal. Poll workers are not allowed to open the boxes. They are opened only upon receipt by the county elections offices. While it is theoretically possible for a poll worker to open the box and look at how someone voted, it is likely they would be caught.

Buying and servicing the printers and keeping the paper ballots secure is expensive.

Nevada elections officials agree with this criticism, but say the cost is worth voter confidence.

— Source: Georgia Secretary of State's office, Kennesaw State University Center for Election Systems, Nevada Secretary of State's office, Clark County (Nevada) Elections Department, Carson City (Nevada) Clerk-Recorder's office.

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