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‘Paper trail’ voting system used in Nevada

In the Nevada primary, voters use computers that print paper records of electronic ballots — a system that could become a model for other states.
Election worker Stella Cuevas monitors an EDGE electronic voting machine during primary election voting at R. Guild Gray Elementary School in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The machines let voters view, but not keep, paper printouts of their ballots.Isaac Brekkken / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

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.

Addressing e-voting concerns
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 vote.

“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, 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.”

‘Huge improvement’
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 the 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 approached what Nevada did Tuesday.

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.