Nevada elections chief seeks reforms — again | NevadaAppeal.com
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Nevada elections chief seeks reforms — again

BEN KIECKHEFER, Associated Press Writer

Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller is gearing up again to fight for election and campaign law changes — including proposals for same-day election registration and improved campaign disclosure that already are drawing criticism from fellow Republicans.

Heller wants to bring Nevada into compliance with the federal “Help America Vote Act” of 2002, which requires updated voting technology and a statewide voter registration system.

Heller said he’s assembling a panel of officials to develop a state plan for implementing the federal act — a plan that’s needed to qualify for federal funds.

Though Congress has not appropriated funding for the bill, Nevada could receive a $5 million grant to complete a shift from punch-card or pull-lever voting systems to new systems that meet the federal law, such as touch screen or optical scanning systems. Only eight of the state’s 17 counties haven’t made the change.

Nevada could get an additional $20.5 million in federal grants to help implement its state election plan. With about $2.5 million of that money, Heller hopes to develop a statewide voter registration system. He’d use the rest to implement other parts of the yet-unwritten plan, including some aspects of an ambitious legislative agenda.

High on the secretary’s agenda is election-day registration.

Provisional voting, which allows citizens not on the registered voter list to cast a ballot, is mandated under the federal act. But Heller said same-day registration would be a more honest option to offer voters.

Provisional ballots are examined for voter eligibility immediately after they’re cast, but Heller said almost none are counted.

“Isn’t it more intellectually honest to say ‘We don’t have you on the magic (registered voters) list, but we’ll give you a choice. You can register to vote right now and cast a vote, or you can fill out a provisional ballot, where 99 out of 100 will get thrown away?” Heller said.

Heller said his office is contacting election technology groups about how to establish a safe system of same-day registration and a statewide registered voter list.

But Sen. Ann O’Connell, R-Las Vegas, said she isn’t convinced same-day registration would be safe from fraud. She questions whether election officials, perhaps swamped with voters, would have the time to immediately register someone.

“I have a real concern about the same-day registration. I just have no idea how in the world they would know how many places the people have voted,” said O’Connell — who chairs the Senate Government Affairs Committee that would review all of Heller’s bills.

Heller also hopes to require electronic campaign finance reporting, so that people wouldn’t have to wait days or weeks to see a candidate’s list of contributors. He also wants to require all candidates to report any contribution of more than $1,000 within 24 hours of receiving it.

Heller said he and several dozen other candidates disclosed their contributions electronically in the most recent election, and the system operated smoothly.

O’Connell questioned whether all candidates would have the ability to access and use computers to file their reports.

“It would just depend on what accessibility people have to computers,” O’Connell said. “It might be an expense that the average person running might not have the extra dollars to go out and buy a computer just to do that.”

She also said campaign contributions aren’t an important issue to the general public.

“I’ve served in the Legislature now 19 years. I’ve yet to have a constituent ask me (about financing),” the senator said.

Heller disagreed.

“There’s no greater way for a member of the general public to determine how an individual is going to vote than to look at where his campaign contributions come from,” he said.

Heller acknowledged he faces an uphill battle. He has been unsuccessful in pushing a number of similar initiatives in previous legislatures. A voters’ bill of rights and the statewide voter registration system were both rejected by the 2001 legislature.

The previous legislature also rejected a proposal for an interim study to rewrite Nevada’s election code. Heller said Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, again will propose the interim study this session.

“This is all about getting re-elected,” Heller said. “It’s not about voter participation. (The legislators will) all say the right things, but the bottom line is, ‘I want to get re-elected. How am I going to get re-elected?”‘

“So if you add another variable to it, like disclosure, my contributions, or more people participating in the process, I’m immediately opposed to it because that’s not what got me elected last time.”