When Suspicions First Arose
COMMENTARY: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
September 25, 2002

The Las Vegas mayoral election of 1987 pitted flamboyant casino developer Bob Stupak against three-term councilman Ron Lurie. The race was raucous and entertaining, so much so that it inspired the largest voter turnout in the history of our city -- 71%.

After a grueling primary and general election, Lurie was declared the victor by the narrowest of margins.

In 1987 Clark County voters cast their vote on paper ballots. Because of the closeness of the outcome, Stupak paid $17,000 to the Election Department for a recount of the paper ballots. The circumstances leading up to this recount have reverberated though our town ever since.

At a post election meeting the day after the election, then-City Manager Ashley Hall asked his staff if anyone who was present at the previous night's ballot count had observed anything that was out of the ordinary. 17-year veteran City Clerk Carol Ann Hawley stated that she had observed several unusual occurrences during the count. When asked to describe the occurrences, Hawley stated that she would do so only with her attorney present. Hall demanded that she reveal her information immediately, Hawley refused.

The meeting ended. Carol Hawley was terminated that afternoon.

I became involved when, as a rookie councilman, I was asked to confirm the firing of Hawley. I abstained on the vote because there was no written information made available to me to substantiate her firing. Out of curiosity I requested a meeting with Carol Hawley.

She told me that she felt that the Stupak/Lurie election had been tampered with. She also said that she and her deputies were ordered out of the ballot counting room for more than an hour during the main part of the count. She stated that during her absence the mayoral votes reversed in their order and Stupak, who was leading in the count, lost his lead by several thousand votes during her absence. Since the City Clerk is the chief election officer during city elections, it was very unusual - possibly illegal - that the Clerk and her staff would be removed from the ballot counting area during election night.

Several days after the election and her termination, Carol Hawley filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Las Vegas. Included in over 9000 pages of depositions were statements of her staff members substantiating suspicions that the election was rigged.

Carol Hawley settled her lawsuit against the city, and little has been said of this story since - until the advent of the Sequoia Pacific paperless voting system.

The next recount took place in 1993. Just prior to the recount, a tremendous amount of unusual activity was observed and photographed taking place at the election department warehouse then located on East Flamingo Rd.

During the nights preceding the recount of the paper ballots, Election Department staff members were seen entering the building at 7 PM, food was delivered shortly thereafter, and the staff members were later seen leaving the warehouse after sunrise the following morning. Also observed was the arrival and departure of then-Registrar of Voters George Ullum in his county vehicle loaded with sealed boxes affixed with the markings of the supplier of the ballots.

It has been speculated that the actual paper ballots used in previous, possibly rigged, Las Vegas elections would have to be destroyed prior to a recount. Then it is speculated that following their destruction a clandestine punching of thousands of unused paper ballots would have to take place to coincide with the hacked computer results that declared the winners and losers on the day of the election. If this actually did occur, the clumsiness of such an operation could be detected as was possibly the case in 1987.

Many persons would have to be involved and physical evidence might be left for detection. It is a violation of federal law to tamper with the election process. If elections were to continue to be rigged in Clark County, as has been alleged, it was obvious that the previous paper ballot system would have to be replaced. Enter the Sequoia Pacific paperless voting system and new Registrar Katherine Ferguson.

In 1994, I was asked to participate in an evaluation of voting systems being considered to replace the antiquated system then in use in Washoe County, Nevada. The second largest metropolitan area in our state was evaluating the products from four venders. Three of the venders offered systems that included paper ballot back up, and one did not. Our committee tested all the systems and concluded that the Sequoia Pacific should be disqualified because it did not have the necessary redundancy required to maintain voter confidence. In other words, Sequoia Pacific's equipment did not allow there to be a paper ballot recount in the event of a contested election.

Washoe County went on to purchase an optical scan system that utilized a paper ballot and a computer. It was chosen because if the computer failed, or if a recount was ordered, there were paper ballots available to verify the results of the election.

Following my participation in the evaluation process, I telephoned Clark County Commission Chairman Bruce Woodbury and Commissioner Don Schlesinger. I told them of the committee's findings and requested that Clark County carefully evaluate the purchase of an optical scan voting system and disqualify the paperless Sequoia Pacific system from contention.

In a letter written to the Washoe County Commission by Registrar of Voters Marlene Henderson, she stated "There is no way to conduct a 'recount' on the Sequoia AVC because there simply are no physical ballots to recount!"

She went on to say "The Sequoia costs 1000% more than the optical scan system and is incapable of processing absentee mail in ballots or challenged ballots forcing the purchase of a second system."

This letter convinced the Washoe County Commission to purchase an optical scan system with a paper ballot backup that is currently in use.

In the meantime, Clark County officials were making their own determination as to what kind of new system they wanted and who they wanted to run it. In a letter to the Clark County Commission from State Senator Ann O'Connell dated June 6, 1995, the Senator stated, "The major concern involves the lack of an individual paper ballot. It is our understanding that it should be possible to attach a printer to the voting machine, which would print out a paper copy after each person votes. A voter could review that copy for accuracy then deposit it in the ballot box as is currently done with a punch card."

On May 10, 1995, State Senator William R. O'Donnell made the following statement, "I would like to encourage the Sequoia Pacific Company to come up with a printed type ballot that can be dropped in a box, individually, by a voter at a very reasonable price. If not, then I would hope that the county would look into and consider very carefully the aspects of getting out of that contract and going to a machine that is more appropriate to do the things that this body would request."

The concerns of Senators O'Connel and O'Donnell fell on deaf ears as did my request to Commission Chairman Woodbury that the paperless Sequoia Pacific machine be disqualified. When the Clark County Commission voted to purchase the paperless system, only one Commissioner voted against the purchase. That Commissioner was Don Schlesinger. Schlesinger was defeated in the next election (counted by Sequoia Pacific equipment). The Commission also voted to hire a new Registrar, Katherine Ferguson.

Now a computer counts our votes and there are no paper ballots available to examine in the event of a recount. If a recount is requested, the computer is again fired up and a download is made of the contested election's results. Therefore there is no way of physically verifying the accuracy of the election. How did this happen and who was responsible?

When questions arose in 1995 as to whether it was legal in Nevada to vote electronically in the absence of a paper ballot backup, our state's Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Pappa responded that the Sequoia Pacific computer produced what she called a "Functional Equivalent" of a paper ballot! She went on to say that such an equivalent was "exactly the same" as a paper ballot and that she therefore fully approved the paperless system.

Since Clark County has been using the Sequoia Pacific machines, several unusual things have occurred. The day before the election in 1998 when the ballot question regarding the quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for a second water line to serve the needs of the casinos and developers was to be voted upon, the Las Vegas Review Journal and KTNV Channel 13 News conducted a poll. The results showed that 80% of those surveyed did not approve of the tax increase and it would go down to defeat by an 80/20 margin. The following day the vote took place and the quarter-cent sales tax increase passed by an 80/20 margin - the opposite result from the previous day's survey!

In 1999, the Las Vegas primary election had another anomaly. In the Ward One race, the early votes started 17 days prior to the day of the election. These early votes were reported on Cox Cable News beginning election night at 7:05 PM and indicated that the incumbent had 63%, his closest challenger had 23%, followed by three other candidates with 10%, 2%, and 2% each. At 10 PM all votes had been counted and the final percentages in Ward One again were 63%, 23%, 10%, 2%, and 2%. Unexplainably, no changes had occurred since 7:05 PM.

I have studied the Sequoia Pacific voting system for many years and I am convinced that its' paperless status is perfectly suited for mass vote manipulation. To quickly and inexpensively remedy the situation, the county should heed Sen. Bill O'Donnell's suggestion and install a printer on each voting machine. That way the voter could review the printout of his or her ballot and deposit it in a locked box next to the voting machine in the event it was needed for a physical recount to verify the results of the electronic ballots.

In the meantime, County Registrar Ferguson has resigned and gone to work for the paper ballotless voting machine manufacturer. Her assistant Larry Lomax was hired to replace her and additional ballotless voting machines have since been purchased from Ferguson's company.

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner. In 1991, the readers of the Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. After the elimination of paper ballot redundancy to facilitate credible recounts, Steve decided to retire from Nevada politics.
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