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EDITORIAL: More voting machine troubles

There should be no need for state to mandate change in Clark County

The federal "Help America Vote Act" will impose a number of expensive mandates on individual voting jurisdictions by 2006. Among them, it appears the law means every American voter will have to cast his ballot on a fully electronic voting machine like the ones Clark County has been using for nearly a decade.

The problem at hand arose when Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller declared a month ago, "My goal is to put everyone on the same system. We don't want different systems."

That wouldn't bother Clark County much if Mr. Heller just decided to spend the $10.7 million in federal money he has on hand through the act to buy Sequoia machines for rural and Northern Nevada. But when rumors circulated that Diebold Inc. one of Sequoia Pacific's competitors had offered to equip the entire state with its machines for the $10.7 million (which would mean trashing and replacing most of Clark County's 3,000 machines) Clark County officials grew concerned.

In addition to Clark County having had relatively smooth elections over the past seven years with its current technology, there's not enough time to throw out the old machines and train staff and volunteers to use an entire new system before next November's elections, argues Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax. Nor does he see how it would "make any sense" for Diebold to replace all the state's machines including the $16 million worth of machines in Clark County alone for less than $11 million.

And that's on top of Diebold's other problems. The New York Times revealed this week that Bev Harris, who's writing a book on voting machines, found Diebold proprietary software on an unprotected server, where anyone could download it.

"This in itself was an incredible breach of security, offering someone who wanted to hack into the machines both the information and the opportunity to do so," Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote on Wednesday.

County Manager Thom Reilly said Wednesday that Mr. Heller has assured him, "This won't affect us. ... They're telling us there's no way they're going to interfere with the success we've had down here. ... (But) if we were mandated to change we'd file legal action, there's no doubt about it."

Good. Whatever the Sequoia machines' flaws, it makes no sense to spend tax money even supposedly "free" federal tax money replacing them with a competing brand that's not perceptibly better.

The problem remains that Clark County taxpayers who also pay federal taxes, of course will end up subsidizing the acquisition of more modern machines by the rest of the state, while little of that money flows back here.

But at least we know who to blame. While the grab-bag 2002 "Help America Vote Act" may have been well-intentioned, its provisions either miss the target or go way beyond the stated purpose of eliminating confusion like that seen in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

Do you suppose it would be overstating things to say our Washington representatives don't seem to have thought this one through very well?

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