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Clark County's Vote:
How Secure Is It?

by Lois Gross

everal citizen watchdog groups within Clark County continue to express concern over the accuracy of the Sequoia Pacific voting machine the county has utilized since 1994. They and others— from states such as Louisiana, Pennsylvania and New York—have amassed a wealth of evidence which gives credence to the allegations of vote fraud. Our own Secretary of State, after repeated requests, cannot produce evidence to prove the new machines in Clark County are certified.

The Voting Integrity Project (VIP) based in Arlington, Virginia also testifies to numerous complaints regarding both these machines’ election accuracy and suspicions of fraud. A vote subjected to electronic tampering is impossible to verify.

Unlike most electronic voting machines that have optical scanners which read the ballot, the Sequoia Pacific AVC is an all electronic Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machine. The most notable difference between the two types used in Nevada is the capability for hard-copy verification by an original paper ballot. According to VIP, there have been instances, especially in 1996’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Louisiana, where the program governing the operation of the Sequoia Pacific machine was altered before the election. Tests performed and videotaped by candidate Susan Barnecker in New Orleans in 1994 demonstrated that votes she cast for herself were electronically recorded for her opponent. This test was repeated multiple times with the same result thus confirming that the machine had been fraudulently altered to influence the outcome of the election.

In July, 1996 a public test to certify Clark County’s Sequoia Pacific machine for early voting was conducted. During the test, a cartridge malfunctioned: also the examiner (selected by the state) had difficulty casting his vote. He had to vote 51 times rather than the designated 50, an option not afforded the voter should the machine malfunction in an actual election. In spite of these malfunctions, the machine was given certification—the equivalent of declaring it accurate, reliable and secure.

Seventy-five people witnessed this test from a cordoned-off position approximately 20 feet away. Election officials removed cartridges from the SP machine for future verification but shortly thereafter the cartridges disappeared. Registrar Kathryn Ferguson, immediately notified the FBI. To date, neither the FBI nor Ms. Ferguson will comment on the disappearance.

In addition to its uncertain accuracy, media and voters have also questioned the Sequoia Pacific’s efficiency. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, lines for the general election were inordinately long. Due to an especially close race in one assembly district, the election was re-run twice, a situation which would not have occurred had paper verification been possible. Assembly District 1 was decided by a six-vote margin, but the outcome was placed in doubt by 40 voting errors.

According to the same Review-Journal article, a technician removed thousands of files from the tabulation sector of the program during the vote count "to speed up the reading of the count." Reconfiguring a computer program that effects the tabulation of votes is prohibited without prior state verification.

The summer edition of Clark County’s PR piece, the Sandstone, crows about the inviolability of the machines, and quotes Michael Shamos as saying "robbing Fort Knox would be easier than tampering with the voting machines." But Mr. Shamos’ inspection did not include the software.

eter Neumann of the Stanford Research Institute is on record as calling voter computer technology "so vulnerable to manipulation that essentially nothing is impossible when it comes to fraudulent misuse." Mr. Neumann, considered a computer security expert, says in his book Computer-Related Risks, that "secret vote-counting instructions designed to manipulate results can be installed in DRE systems" like the kind in use in Clark County. These instructions, he writes, are "child’s play for vendors and election officials. Checks and balances are mostly placebos, and easily subverted." Many other experts say substantially the same thing.

At present Sequoia Pacific refuses to permit the source code (used for tabulation) to be checked by outside sources, claiming it is proprietary to the company. If companies or individuals have the right to hold their information in confidence, how then do we reconcile this with the whole concept of public service? After all, it is paid for by public money and is within the public’s legal right to know. Until voters within Clark County raise a legal challenge, voting integrity will be subject to speculation. This issue is important to all of Nevada. "It is the only county in Nevada using the Sequoia Pacific Machines, and every statewide race could be called into question because of the sheer size of Clark County’s vote, which comprises 65 percent of all of the votes in Nevada.

In 1996, despite Clark County’s unprecedented population growth, voter participation was 21 percent under 1992 levels. Many voters contend they feel insecure about these machines and are understandably wary of voting on them. u

Lois Gross is a member of the Nevada Policy Research Institute's Advisory Council.


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