Nevada election officials waited in vain Thursday for the Supreme Court to tell them which questions will be on the November ballot.
The high court heard arguments on four different questions last week. At those hearings, they were advised by Deputy Attorney General Josh Hicks that county election officials need an answer by today because they can't order sample ballots or absentee ballots until they know which questions are on the list and which aren't.
But the court issued no opinions Thursday.
"We're waiting to print the absentees, and they really need to be forwarded to the printer by the first of the month," said Carson City Clerk Recorder Alan Glover. "We're really up against it because we have to mail the absentees pretty quick if they're going to get to people."
And, he said, clerks want to avoid a repeat of the problem during the primary when many people - particularly in rural counties - didn't receive sample ballots until early voting was nearly over.
The court heard arguments Aug. 23 on three statewide ballot questions - the Tax and Spending Control Initiative, the proposal to restrict smoking in almost all public places and the so-called property owner's bill of rights which would limit governmental powers of condemnation.
They also heard arguments over the Boulder City ballot question to essentially prevent development of more than 100,000 acres.
"Every day later makes it tougher," said Clark County registrar Larry Lomax. "We use a local printer and that saves us a lot of time, but for the counties that send stuff off to Sequoia, that's a real problem."
Sequoia Voting Systems is the company which makes the voting machines used in all Nevada counties. The company also prints sample and absentee ballots for most of the small counties in the state.
Barbara Reed, clerk-treasurer in Douglas County, said Sequoia has contacted her several times asking for final ballot information.
"They obviously are up against the wall," she said. "They have all these elections around the country and only have so much staff."
Reed said Sequoia begins running 24 hours a day, seven days a week on Tuesday and, with most of Nevada's counties, many more in California and other states, the later Nevada's data gets to them, the later the printed ballots will be sent back to Nevada.
"Our primary concern is the absentee ballots," said Reed. "In less than a month, they have to be in the mail."
Between now and then, she said, the final ballot must be drafted, then proofed, sent to Sequoia and printed, returned, addressed to voters and mailed out.
"The further we get behind, the longer it's going to be to get them out there," she said. "We really need an answer today."
"It's not just printing the ballots," said Lomax. "We have to program all these machines and then have to proof all this stuff."
And, he said, Clark County has to translate the ballot into Spanish as well as English.
"I can't lay out that final sample ballot, which I have to do in English and Spanish, until I know what goes where. And I can't send it out to be translated," he said.
At present, all of those four challenged questions are on the ballot. If the high court fails to rule before sample ballots are printed, they would remain on the list. But if the court then rules one or more should be removed from the ballot, sample ballots wouldn't match up with the ballot that appears on voting machines.
Ellick Hsu, elections deputy for the secretary of state's office, said that scenario would cause serious confusion among voters.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.