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Printers allow Nevada electronic voters to blaze paper trail
ASSOCIATED PRESS 07 September 2004

CARSON CITY, Nev. - During a relatively smooth primary election Tuesday, Nevada residents became the first in the nation to cast votes on computers that printed paper records of electronic ballots.

Nevada's $9.3 million voting system - which includes more than 2,600 computers and printers deployed in every county - could become a model for other states. California, Washington and Illinois recently passed laws requiring a paper trail for electronic ballots, and at least 20 others are considering similar legislation.

A delegation of federal election officials monitored the equipment's debut in the state capital Tuesday, touring precincts and talking to poll workers as voters cast ballots for congressional candidates, state legislators, school officials and judges.

The system, developed by Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., aims to address concerns of computer scientists and voting activists, who say that paperless touchscreens - which as many as 50 million Americans will use in the November presidential election - cannot be properly audited or recounted.

"From what I've seen, voters seem to enjoy the experience," said DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. "There hasn't been frustration or confusion."

Secretary of State Dean Heller said the system represents a "huge leap forward" for Nevada, where seven of 17 counties used old-fashioned punch card machines in the previous election. One poor, isolated county in eastern Nevada, White Pine, had to rent storage space for the newfangled gizmos because it kept its old punch card machines in a cave.

Heller purchased the equipment in December, after his staff conducted town hall meetings and solicited comments from voters. The feedback came after voting activists discovered security breaches and conflicts of interest among executives at voting equipment companies, particularly North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Inc.

"Voters were very vocal in their concerns about paperless electronic voting," Heller said at a Carson City community center where voters received red, white and blue "I voted touchscreen" stickers as they left the polls. "Diebold's controversies were on the leading edge of voters' minds."

Voter advocates praised Nevada's system, which requires county registrars to randomly a small percentage of machines and compare their printed records with the vote totals taken from the computers' memory cartridges after polls close. The paper records will be kept in county election offices for 22 months and used in case of a recount.

"It's no panacea, but it's a huge improvement over paperless systems because there will be a paper record of every electronic ballot," said Kim Alexander, president of Davis, Calif.-based California Voter Foundation.

Although voters were casting ballots without widespread problems Tuesday, the election was not free of glitches. Several machines failed to start, and some printers jammed in Douglas and Carson City counties. Poll workers simply replaced them with functioning models.

At the Carson City community center, voter Robert Thomasson's encoder card became jammed in a machine. "The voter card is stuck," the computer monitor flashed until a poll worker pried it loose and the monitor said his votes were recorded.

"The machine told me the vote was counted, so I'm happy about that," Thomasson said.

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