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September 1, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

Audit report won’t tell you much

Election Department data redacted to ensure privacy

If you’re looking for a quick read this summer — and we mean real quick — check out the recently released audit of the Clark County Election Department’s information systems.

What will I find? Harrowing tales of vote rigging and voting machine tampering?

No, sorry. It’s a quick read for an entirely different reason. The majority of the report is redacted with large black boxes.

The audit is intended to ensure department data are secure. The report lists five “high-priority issues,” those that create an “immediate risk to the availability, confidentiality or integrity” of the data, but four of them are redacted. So are all four “medium-priority” issues and two of four “low-priority” issues.

So what does the report tell us?

The one high-priority issue that is detailed reveals that temporary election workers had the ability to upgrade their access levels, which could allow a tech-savvy temp to download remote access software or a virus onto the computer.

Those computers, however, did not have access to sensitive data such as voter registration lists. But if the election department later switched computers around, someone could get access to the voter registration rolls.

Auditor Jerry Carroll said that is hypothetical and extremely unlikely. Even if it happened, a voter who had been removed from the list still would be allowed to vote, he said. The election department then would investigate and validate the voter’s ballot, he said.

If numerous names were removed from the registration list, that would send up a red flag and the department could retrieve the original information from backup systems, he said. Those backup systems are secure and could not be accessed through the compromised computer, he said.

Carroll said the problem has since been fixed.

Larry Lomax, the county’s registrar of voters, said none of the findings had to do with the security of the county’s voting machines or the tabulation of election results. Carroll said that overall his auditors rated the election department’s technology security “very high.”

Why shouldn’t I be able to read the entire audit?

Auditors and department officials say the redactions are necessary to keep the information secure.

“If they’ve got something that could be vulnerable, they don’t want to put it out to the public,” Lomax said.

Carroll said the redactions are typical of most of the county’s technology audits. One auditor said making the findings public would be akin to telling everyone you keep a house key under your doormat.

What’s the latest with Sunrise Landfill?

Garbage company Republic Services is still pushing for the county to increase garbage rates to help pay for the remaining work on the landfill, expected to cost more than $36 million.

The county commission was supposed to discuss that request this month, but Commissioner Chip Maxfield asked that the discussion be delayed until Tuesday’s meeting.

Maxfield has kept the issue alive, despite a district attorney’s opinion that says the county can make Republic pay for the work under a 1999 agreement in which the company took responsibility for cleaning up and properly closing the dump in exchange for a 15-year extension of its lucrative solid waste collection contract with the county.

Republic’s attorneys disagree with the district attorney’s opinion. The company says earlier agreements incorporated into the 1999 agreement implied that rate increases would help pay to close the landfill, which stopped receiving garbage in 1993.

So what is Maxfield’s motive for keeping it alive?

One line of thought: He’s not running for reelection and probably will be looking for work when he steps down in January. He is an engineer and Republic employs and contracts with engineers.

We asked Maxfield whether that was a factor. He flatly rejected that implication, saying he has had no discussions with Republic about working for the company and has no intention of doing so.

His only motivation, he said, is that he doesn’t want the county to get bogged down in a lengthy and costly legal fight with the garbage giant.

In the meantime, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new order last week requiring Republic to complete the next $6.7 million in work on the dump.

The order came a few days after Republic officials suggested to county commissioners that the company would not sign a federal consent decree that lays out the exact scope of work remaining on the landfill and requires Republic to do it. Commissioners signed off on the decree, but Republic has said it doesn’t want to commit to work beyond the $6.7 million until it knows how it will pay for it.

Any good news?

University Medical Center, the financially struggling county hospital, is getting some help.

The UMC Auxiliary, a nonprofit group that raises money by selling scrubs, jewelry and other wares at the hospital, is donating $500,000 to help pay for diagnostic equipment for cardiac patients and a new operating room.

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