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New Mexico: State Certifies Automark - Counties to Decide PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart, Director of Legislative Issues and Policy, VoteTrustUSA   
November 25, 2005
In a dramatic reversal of her previous position, New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron on November 21 certified the ES&S Automark ballot-marking device for use in the state. County Clerks will now have the choice of three systems in meeting HAVA Section 301 requirements – two DREs (the Sequoia Edge and the ES&S iVotronic) or optical scans with Automarks.

Eleven counties in New Mexico used Optech for all stages of voting last year and before this week’s certification were facing a choice between adopting a blended system with DREs only for disabled voters or switching completely to DREs. Now they can purchase one Automark for each polling place (2 in Harding County, 4 in DeBaca County, 5 in Guadalupe County. 6 in Hidalgo County, 9 in Sierra and Union Counties, and several other counties with less than 20) and they will be both HAVA compliant and will be able to meet the state’s requirement for a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) in 2007.

An article in the Albuquerque Journal notes that the certification was certain to please disability advocacy organizations, “who picked the AutoMark as their overwhelming favorite in tests earlier this year.” The article also pointed out that while Vigil-Giron said the decision about which machines to buy would be left to the individual county clerks, so far the only machine that complies with the state’s VVPAT requirement is the AutoMark.

New Mexico’s omnibus election reform bill (S. 678) that was signed my the Governor last May establishes a requirement for a voter verified paper audit trail and specifies that in the case of inconsistencies between totals derived from the VVPR and electronic tabulation, the VVPR will be considered the true and correct record of the voter's vote. The two VVPAT options that are available for counties in New Mexico do not allow a disabled voter to verify the paper record - the audio stream used by the Edge with the VeriVote printer (and most likely the iVotronic printer as well) comes directly from the DRE and is the same data stream used during the rest of the audio voting. By contrast, in the case of the Automark, since there is only one record of the vote (the oprical scan ballot electronically marked by the machine) the disabled voter is in fact verifying the VVPR.

Funding for voting systems upgrades is at the top of many counties' list of priorities and  the New Mexico Association of Counties listed getting funding for new machines as one of its top lobbying priorities for the upcoming session. The association estimated that outfitting counties with machines that provide a VVPAT could cost between $14 million and $34 million, depending on which machines are deemed certified. Vigil-Giron has estimated the cost at $38 million. These estimates were before the Automark was an option. No longer faced with completely replacing their existing voting technology, the Secretary of State’s decision will result in significant savings for many counties.

County Clerks in the state's largest counties were still uncertain of their decisions, but seem interested in considering their new option. Another Albuquerque Journal article reported that Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza is leaning toward picking the Sequoia Edge machine but wants to discuss the different machines with people in the disabled community first. Meanwhile, Mary Herrera, the Bernalillo County clerk, favored the Sequoia model as well, but had just learned of the AutoMARK's certification. "I can't tell you what I will choose until I check out the AutoMARK," Herrera said.

VerifiedVoting New Mexico and United Voters of New Mexico sent a memorandum to all the state's county clerks this week. Given the options offered to the counties, both organizations prefer the optical scan option.

Santa Fe Director of Elections Denise Lamb remains adamantly opposed to VVPAT, reportedly submitting a 10-page critique for the Election Reform Task Force. Her section on the voter-verified paper trail lays out a long list of questions that she said still need to be addressed. Several of these questions (which have not been made available publically) were reported in the Journal article. None of them are compelling and none are relevant in the case of the Automark.

Most of Lamb’s question concerned procedural issues related to the chain of custody of the VVPRs are the same as those for paper ballots in the state. She also brought up the issue of paper jams, which of course can happen, but would be relatively easy for a pollworker to handle – unlike the problems with ballot programming that most often go undetected, or the machine malfunctions, well documented in the state in recent elections, that Lamb has repeatedly dismissed. None of these concerns are relevant to a situation in which optical scan ballots are used with ballot-marking devices. There is only one ballot and there is no need for additional security measures beyond those already in state law.

She also noted that it was just as easy to tamper with a paper trail or a paper ballot as it is with an electronic touch screen. But there’s no way to detect tampering on an electronic touch screen. In any case it is reassuring to have confirmation from the former state election director that it is easy to tamper with an electronic touch screen. All the more reason to establish mechanisms to verify their accuracy – or not use them at all.
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