Secretary Of State In Dispute Over Voting Machines

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Secretary of State Dean Heller and northern Nevada voter registrars are squabbling over the type of electronic voting machines the state will buy in coming weeks.

Alan Glover, the Carson City clerk, said Monday that registrars in his area want Heller to use $8 million in federal funds to buy touch-screen voting machines manufactured by Diebold Inc. of North Canton, Ohio.

But Heller says he wants all counties to use the same type of machines. To accomplish that, the secretary of state would need to buy machines manufactured by Sequoia Pacific Voting Systems of Oakland, Calif. That company manufactured the 2,885 electronic machines already used in Clark County, by far the most populous county in the state.

"I haven't made a decision yet," Heller said. "In my opinion, the best situation would be to have a single system. There are clerks who differ."

The secretary of state expects to make a decision within two weeks on which manufacturer he will pick to supply about 2,000 electronic voting machines for the 16 counties in Nevada other than Clark County.

Glover said he and other clerks are not sure Heller has the legal right to buy the machines for all counties. He said they are researching federal and state laws to determine if each county should be permitted to buy its own machines.

"I don't see it in the state statutes," Glover said. "But the money was sent from Washington to the secretary of state."

Heller said it's his responsibility to make the purchases. "If anything goes wrong, they are going after me. The Justice Department isn't going after the clerks," he said.

The state has received $5 million in federal funds under the Help America Vote Act to buy electronic voting machines. Another $5.7 million in federal grants is expected in a few months.

In response to the presidential voting controversy in Florida in 2000, Congress appropriated money to let states replace old punch-card ballots and optical scan voting machines with electronic machines.

Glover said clerks in the Carson City-Reno area prefer the Diebold machines, weighing 24 pounds, over the Sequoia machines, which weigh 44 pounds.

The clerks intend to discuss their views with Heller during a 7 p.m. Thursday public forum in Reno.

So far, Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax is taking a neutral stance on the controversy.

"I could not start adding Diebold machines," he said. "They are incompatible with ours. We have $17 million to $20 million tied up in our machines."

Lomax hopes the secretary of state can find a way to reimburse Clark County for money it already has spent on voting machines.

Heller said he cannot apply the federal funds retroactively to compensate Clark County for machines it already has purchased. But he hopes to send about $2 million to the county in the coming year for additional Sequoia machines it must buy to keep up with growth.


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