New voting machines get final testing in Nevada
LAS VEGAS – Nevada voting machines are still being tested for use in the September primary and November election, alarming election officials who say they are already under immense strain.
Nevada plans to be the first state in the nation to use touch-screen machines with an attached printer that keeps a paper record of electronic votes. But officials said it was taking longer than expected to get federal certification.
The independent testing companies vetting the machines and software were supposed to approve them a month ago, Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said.
“We’re pretty frustrated down here,” Lomax told the Las Vegas Sun in a recent interview. “This is a really tough election for us.”
The machines’ final federal test, which involves bombarding them with radio waves, was scheduled Monday, said Alfie Charles, vice president of business development at Sequoia Voting Systems, which makes the machines.
Nevada is trying to go above and beyond the rest of the country by pioneering innovative voting methods. But it is finding complications with new machines and new regulations combined with a state system designed in the rural past.
The software for the new voting machines was approved Thursday, just as Lomax said the county was about to give up on it and instead use programming from 2002. That would make operations more labor-intensive.
Voting machines must be certified at the federal and state level to ensure they count votes accurately, won’t break down and aren’t susceptible to fraud.
With 400,000 people expected to vote in Clark County in November’s general election, “we want to be absolutely sure when we go into the election that we have a good handle on everything,” Lomax said.
Election officials are confident the new voting machines will pass, said Steve George, spokesman for Secretary of State Dean Heller.
“They have some little bugs that they are trying to iron out, but I know they’re getting very close,” he said.
Despite the approval delays, Sequoia has begun manufacturing the machines and has promised to ship them to Nevada in August.
Sequoia has a $9 million contract with the state to provide nearly 2,000 new machines and more than 3,000 printers, as well as technical support. Almost all the money comes from federal funds, George said.
After voters make their selections, the machine prints a receipt behind a window. Voters can look at the receipts but not touch them. The receipts are kept as a backup to electronic votes.
“The printed receipt allows voters to review their selections on the screen and on paper,” Charles said. “That’s important for voter confidence.”
The new voting machines being used this year could also make voting smoother, especially for Spanish-speakers.
The touch-screen devices can switch from English to Spanish in a flash, unlike push-button machines. For that reason, the limited number of touch-screen devices in Clark County will be concentrated in heavily Hispanic areas.