County clerks in Nevada say time is running short if they are to purchase and install new touch-screen voting systems by the November 2004 election.
Alan Glover, clerk-recorder in Carson City, said training and implementation of software must be completed by Feb. 1 and the new voting equipment delivered by April 1 if they are to use the new system in the next general election.
In a letter to Secretary of State Dean Heller, Glover said county clerks believe "time is running out to put on a successful election."
Heller said they'll have their decision after he meets with Washoe County officials on Dec. 4 to discuss the two major voting machine systems under consideration.
"They'll have the machines by March and they'll have the rest of the year to do training and get ready for the election," Heller said.
Heller said all counties in the state should use the same machines rather than allowing each county to buy a different system.
"We're in the unique position where we can do that," he said. "I'm hoping we have one kind of machine so that every voter in this state goes to the polls on Election Day and uses the same machine."
Because his office controls the money provided by the federal government to purchase the machines, he has a lot of say over the issue.
Some clerks, however, want the freedom to make their own decisions. They maintain running elections should be left to county officials, not the state.
"Our unified opinion also still remains strong that each county be responsible for selecting the equipment and vendor that will best meet the needs of the local voters within their respective jurisdictions," Glover's letter said.
Heller said the federal government apparently disagrees.
"If the feds wanted the clerks to have all the money, they could have allocated it to them, but it's clear if there are problems in our state, the Justice Department is going after the secretary of state, so the burden falls on my office."
The letter warns that the most time-consuming part of the extensive modernization and upgrades mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act will be public education in using the new system.
The act was passed by Congress in response to the controversies generated by the 2000 presidential election.
"If a decision cannot be reached and information provided to us shortly, we strongly suggest you consider postponing any decision regarding election equipment-tabulation systems until after the 2004 presidential election," the letter said.
Heller has been leaning toward the Sequoia system already in place in Clark County, which spent about $16 million on the system.
The other major system is sold by Diebold, but it has been criticized by some officials who say it has security flaws.