Q&A: Secretary of state lauds voting-machine success
This year was the first time Nevada used electronic voting machines in all 17 counties – all made by Sequoia Voting Systems – to conduct both the primary and general elections. Unlike a number of other states where there were serious questions about whether all the votes were counted and counted accurately, the process went smoothly in Nevada, generating little controversy.
Secretary of State Dean Heller, whose office overseas the election process statewide, answers some questions about this year’s election.
What went right during the general elections?
We were in Washington recently discussing with all the other states what went wrong with the elections. Nevada is the success story for 2004, and every question they had, the answer was a paper trail.
How are we sure all the votes were counted and how do we audit the votes in a machine? The answer is a paper trail, and that’s what Nevada had. There were a couple of counties in Ohio where they lost ballots or the cartridge in the machine didn’t read correctly. We had that happen in the primary in Tonopah, where the cartridge was unreadable. But since we had a paper trail back-up, we were able to go back and restructure the vote – and answer the question.
So Nevada was definitely the success story nationally, and a lot of other states were looking at how we did this.
What went wrong, and what would you change in how we conduct elections for next time?
A lot of our problems were before Election Day. One thing I would change is to move the primary back. The clerks and registrars need more time to prepare for the general election. This last election was an example of 11th-hour legal maneuvers I think were designed to cause problems. The longer they could extend these lawsuits, some of these people felt the more likely it was these ballot questions they opposed would be removed from the ballot.
We need to move the primary back 60 to 90 days to about the second week in May to give the clerks more time so they aren’t up against the deadline. That means we also have to move candidate filing and everything else back.
And we need to set limits on when litigation can be filed in courts to stop some of this 11th-hour maneuvering.
That would make a significant difference in the administration of elections. The second thing I would do is introduce same-day voter registration. I disagree with (Carson City Clerk-Recorder) Alan Glover that this would cause fraud. I believe it would be the answer to election-registration issues that came up this time.
It was true we were losing registrations. There’s no doubt there were Republican operatives throwing away Democratic registration forms and Democratic operatives throwing away Republican registration forms.
Same-day registration would remove the incentive to do things like that because, if someone registered and their form was never turned in, they’d be able to register Election Day and vote anyway. There are six states I believe that allow Election Day registration and they had the highest percentage turnout. I’ve talked to the secretaries of state in those states, and I challenge you to go to those states and find me a case of fraud.
You’ve mentioned before there are other problems with Nevada’s election laws. What would you like to see changed there?
The election law has developed piece by piece over the years. The reason it’s where it is today is because we have 63 legislators, and when they have problems with it in their campaign, they amend a piece of it to fix that problem. The result is a very disorganized set of laws with sections in different places that at least appear to conflict with each other. An example would be the laws governing initiatives and referendums which were used extensively this year. All the laws regarding initiatives should be in one place, but they’re not. They’re in at least two different sections of the law. And those different sections can be read to mean different things.
Some of it’s just cleanup and reorganization, but there are also parts that contradict each other, and those issues need to be resolved so everybody is playing by the same rules and playing by rules we all understand. The problem is, it’s not a cheap process but it needs to be done.