17,000 Voters Forced to Vote on Provisional Ballots After Being Dropped from Registration Rolls 'Maintained' by SoS and Voting Machine Company, ES&S
Few Explanations Available Yet for Any of It, Governor Richardson 'Deeply Disturbed' by Reports...
By Brad Friedman on 2/6/2008, 6:31pm PT  

The good news: New Mexico now votes on paper ballots, since their touch-screen debacle in the 2004 Presidential Election left Gov. Bill Richardson with little legal choice but to move to paper.

The bad news: The huge turnout in yesterday's Democratic Primary led to long lines, voters who found they were no longer on the registration rolls for some still-unexplained reason, 17,000 votes had to be cast on provisional ballots which remain uncounted today, and now it's being reported --- incredibly --- that at least three ballot boxes were kept overnight last night, uncounted, at the home of a Democratic County Party Chairwoman.

What makes it all worse, as if all that is not troubling enough, is that the current razor-thin margin between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the caucus stands at just 217 votes out of 136 thousand ballots cast.

The governor's apologizing, the party is prevaricating, the candidates' representatives are negotiating, and, as usual, it's the voters who are left hanging, wondering if their voices will actually be heard...

We were were just a guest on Santa Fe's Public Radio station, KSFR, discussing that issue and other problems around the country. We'll post audio here when we can get it.

UPDATE: Here's that audio. We're on for the first 15 minutes or so, followed by Susan Greenhalgh of VoterAction.org, speaking about Super Tuesday problems with DREs around the country. Appx 30 mins in full. Download MP3, or listen online here...

Governor Bill Richardson has issued a statement today, saying "I am deeply disturbed by the reports that problems and delays at polling locations may have kept people from voting."

Over on Albuquerque's Public Radio station, KUNM, this afternoon, San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maes said of the voters who showed up, only to find they were not on the registration rolls for some reason, "We verified most of them, and they were in our system, but for some reason they didn’t appear on the roster for the caucus."

KUNM reported that Maes' office "got calls from whole neighborhoods of Democrats who were on his list of eligible voters but were asked to use provisional ballots" and that they are "not sure where the Democratic Party got its list."

The Democratic Party in New Mexico runs its own caucus.

The report (transcript posted in full at end of this article) goes on to suggest that the voter list comes from the Secretary of State, who contracts out the maintenance of the voter registration rolls (again, incredibly enough) to voting machine company ES&S.

As to the ballot boxes kept uncounted overnight at the home of a Democratic Party Official, Democracy for New Mexico points us to this report from NM political reporter Heath Haussamen, who writes today:

Several sources told me the ballot boxes spent the night at the home of Rio Arriba County Democratic Party Chair Theresa Martinez, whose state-lawmaker husband, Sen. Richard Martinez, endorsed Hillary Clinton. But Richard Martinez told Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Kate Nash that the boxes actually spent the night in the homes of three polling-place managers. He gave Nash no explanation for why the results from those ballots weren’t reported to the state party last night and why they were instead kept overnight in officials’ homes.

“The site managers locked them and they kept them and they took them to my wife this morning,” Nash quoted Richard Martinez as saying.

State party officials and Theresa Martinez have not returned my calls seeking comment.

The three ballot boxes from Rio Arriba County and a fourth from Sandoval County account for the 2 percent of precincts that haven’t yet reported results from Tuesday’s caucus. With about 200 votes separating Clinton and Barack Obama, that’s huge. We’re talking about the ballots from half the polling places in Rio Arriba County.

I want to make sure this point is emphasized: Roughly half the votes from Rio Arriba County spent the night in the privacy of the home or homes of one or more election officials in boxes those officials may have had the ability to open. All the county party chair had to do last night to report the results was make a phone call. That never happened.

Though we shouldn't, by now, be amazed by such stories, we continue to be. It looks like quite a few folks have some 'splainin' to do in New Mexico. Again.

We recommend Democracy for New Mexico's excellent continuing coverage for following this story.

Thanks to Election Defense Alliance's Theron Horton for the transcript from Jim William's KUNM report on the questions surrounding the use of some 17,000 provisional ballots yesterday. That transcript follows in full below...

Intro: Some local election officials say they’re wondering where the Democratic Party got its list of eligible voters for yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) presidential preference caucus. The party itself ran the election, not the state or counties. The results of the caucus were as tight as they probably could have been, with Senator Hillary Clinton edging out Senator Barack Obama by 217 votes out of 136-thousand cast. As KUNM’s Jim Williams reports, many voters showed up at the polls only to be asked to vote on provisional ballots, because their names weren’t on the eligible voter list.

Jim Williams: Seventeen thousand. That’s the number of provisional ballots issued in the New Mexico Democratic presidential preference caucus on Tuesday. Some of the reasons for that relatively high number were likely weather, confusion over voting locations, and confusion over just what a Democratic presidential preference caucus actually is. Some polling locations saw Republicans and Independents, who weren’t eligible to vote in the caucus, showing up and trying anyway. But another issue entirely is registered Democrats who showed up and couldn’t vote on regular ballots.

Paul Maes: We verified most of them, and they were in our system, but for some reason they didn’t appear on the roster for the caucus.

Williams: Paul Maes is San Miguel County Clerk. He says his office got calls from whole neighborhoods of Democrats who were on his list of eligible voters but were asked to use provisional ballots. He says he’s not sure where the Democratic Party got its list.

Maes: I know they didn’t get it from us. It has to be the secretary of state’s office or ES&S, which is the…the main system is the, I guess they contract out with ES&S to maintain voter registration.

Williams: Maes says there are just three entities that can provide voter lists for elections…county clerks, the secretary of state’s office, and Election Systems and Software, or ES&S.

Maes: I just don’t know where they pulled the file from, if it was from the secretary of state or from ES&S, or even if they used an old one. But there was a lot of discrepancies in the list that they provided to each polling place.

Fran Hanhardt: We did have phone calls from voters who were concerned about the registration and the way we had it in our office.

Williams: Fran Hanhardt is San Juan County Clerk.

Hanhardt: In exploring the records that we have in our office, we determined that in fact they were registered, and should, and were registered at the precinct where they showed up, at the consolidated precinct where they showed up to vote, and should have been on that list.

Williams: Hanhardt says if the Democratic Party used a list that was older than 20 days or so, that could have been the problem.

Hanhardt: Because we were making changes in voter registrations for people who, in fact, changed their registrations the day the books closed, which was 28 days prior to their election, so in our records those people would have shown up on those rosters, um, but they did not show up on the Democratic Party rosters that were presented at the precincts.

Williams: But James Flores, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, says the list did come through the state’s Elections Bureau, overseen by the secretary of state. And it is possible that Election Systems and Software was involved with the list.

James Flores: The information compiled here at the secretary of state’s office is the same information that each of the individual county clerks has. We kind of serve as a, for lack of a better phrase, we serve as a hub for all that information. The last time it was uh, information, updated information was sent, was approximately the 24th of last month.

Williams: But Hanhardt says it concerns her that there are discrepancies between what she has and what the state has.

Hanhardt: If my list shows a voter as being qualified as a voter, then I take offense to the fact that when that voter shows up to vote at a polling place, that he’s not given the opportunity to vote in a standard measure. I, but I can’t control how they got their list. I can only assure that voter that my records are correct, and if the list had been printed from my records, that they would have been on that list.

Williams: Flores says the secretary of state’s office wants to hear from county clerks who saw discrepancies in Tuesday’s Democratic caucus.

Flores: Uh, they haven’t contacted our office, we would need to find out what they’re talking about…uh…what voters they’re talking about. I know that if there was a just a recent change right before election time, um, there’s a file that they call a suspense file…and what it does is that uh, it may not have all the current information but it will still allow the voter to vote, but it’s very likely they will have to vote provisional. And then of course their vote would count once everything has been verified.

Williams: San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maes says the high numbers of provisional ballots combined with a new system of handling them this time was likely one of the reasons for the long, slow voting lines at polling locations around the state. So if discrepancies between voter lists led to more provisional ballots, they may have also led to some voters deciding the wait wasn’t worth it, which happened in polling places across the state. The state Democratic Party hadn’t responded to requests for comment on this story at the time of broadcast. For KUNM, I’m Jim Williams.

UPDATE 2/7/08 1:27pm PT: More details on the absurdly long lines, and voters turned away Tuesday in the Democratic Party-run Caucus here.

UPDATE 2/7/08 2:08pm PT: Jim Williams of KUNM writes to send us this additional information:

A quick check of the 2004 NM Democratic caucus results indicates the provisional ballot rate that year at 5 percent. 2008 NM Democratic caucus provisional ballot rate appears to be 11 percent.

Since posting this story originally, we've been barraged by registered Democrats writing in from NM to say that they either couldn't vote, due to long lines, or found that they were not on the registration rolls when they finally got to the table.

The most notable take-away from this story may end up not being the poorly run caucus process of the Democratic Party (as opposed to the state, who would run the general election in November), or even the "sleepover" ballot boxes. The most notable issue here may be the questions about what the hell happened to the registration rolls in New Mexico, as now maintained by the thugs and failures at voting machine company ES&S, since the last election.

Remember, NM is where former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was fired because he refused to prosecute the bogus "voter fraud" charges made by the Republican Party there.

UPDATE 2/7/08 2:31pm PT: ALL ballots in NM's Democratic Caucus will now be recounted, according to NPR...

[T]he Democrat-only contest was plagued by so many problems that the state party, along with the Clinton and Obama campaigns, agreed that only checking all ballots cast would insure an accurate result.

New Mexico apportions its delegates, so Obama and Clinton will each end up with a share of the 26 delegates at stake. And with the national race so close, each delegate counts.

There is no prediction of when the recount will be completed.

UPDATE 2/8/07 8:06pm PT: NPR's report was wrong. Only "qualified provisional ballots" will be counted. But, more disturbingly, the ES&S fingerprints on the voter roll problems becomes more apparent. Please see this update...