During the 30-day State Legislative session earlier this year, a bill requiring all precincts in the state to use paper ballot voting systems (SB 295/HB 430) passed in the Senate and House. The legislation was later signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson. Now state officials are in the midst of trying to meet the new requirements (uniform paper ballot voting systems across the state and an adequate number of voting machines) before this fall’s midterm election.
Paul Stokes, coordinator of United Voters of New Mexico, one of several groups pushing for paper ballots, says, “With the governor’s backing and so forth, I’m not surprised [the bill] ended up passing.” Stokes adds that his organization is extremely happy with the substance of the bill; however, he says they are unhappy with certain provisions in the bill that he refers to as “poison pills.” These require the state, not the counties, to pay for all ballots, machines and equipment.
An appropriations bill that would have covered $4 million of the cost for the changeover failed to pass during the Legislative Session, which means it’s still up in the air as to where the funding will come from. According to Stokes, the provisions could prevent or give counties an excuse to not switch to paper ballots. “I don’t know if that’s what will happen, but that’s what could happen if this is allowed to fester.”
Last December, Attorney General Patricia Madrid asked county clerks across the state to place an order for Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant voting machines, which are required by law by this year and will be paid for at the federal level. Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera originally wanted touch screen machines for Bernalillo precincts, but now must comply with the new state requirements as well [Newscity, “Forging Trails,” December 15-21, 2005]. Herrera says none of the counties have received funding for the machines as of yet. She says her office placed Bernalillo County’s order for voting equipment on February 26. “We have not received any equipment that we’re going to need as of this date. We don’t know whether they’ve been ordered.”
Herrera says she wishes the new system could have been up and running in time for the primary election on June 6, but they’ve already certified existing machines and are conducting early voting. She says it would have been better to introduce a new system during the smaller, upcoming primary election. However, Herrera says the system will definitely be ready for this fall’s midterm election; otherwise Bernalillo County will be violating the ADA. “There are two different laws; one is the state’s, one is federal. The state law gives us until 2007, but we have to comply with the federal law this year.”