In what could become a model for other
states, Nevada voters on Tuesday became the first in the nation to
cast ballots in a statewide election on computers that printed
paper records of electronic ballots.
As polls closed, officials said the primary was generally free
of dramatic software and hardware problems that have cast doubt
upon electronic voting systems in other states.
"Knock on wood, so far things have been working flawlessly,"
said Secretary of State Dean Heller.
A delegation of federal election officials monitored the
equipment's debut in the state capital Tuesday, touring precincts
and talking to poll workers as residents voted for congressional
candidates, state legislators, school officials and judges.
Nevada's $9.3 million voting system includes more than 2,600
computers and printers deployed in every county. California,
Washington and Illinois recently passed laws requiring a paper
trail for electronic ballots, and at least 20 others are
considering similar legislation.
The system, developed by California-based Sequoia Voting Systems
Inc., aims to address concerns that paperless touchscreen votes
cannot be properly audited or recounted. As many as 50 million
Americans will cast ballots in the November presidential election
on electronic machines that do not produce a paper receipt of the
"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
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, kept its old punch card machines in a
cave, and had to rent storage space for the newfangled gizmos.
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 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, in which 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.
A few jurisdictions have experimented with such e-voting
machines in local elections in the last year, but no one has ever
approached what Nevada did Tuesday.
Although voters were casting ballots without widespread problems
Tuesday, the election was not free of glitches. Pershing and Washoe
Counties reported delays in vote totals because election officials
were unfamiliar with the equipment.
Elsewhere, 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.