The Albuquerque Tribune


A ban on electronic voting machines?


By Erik Siemers

Tribune Reporter

December 31, 2005


The June gubernatorial primary would be the first in which every Bernalillo County polling place will have a touch-screen voting machine - if a pending lawsuit doesn't ban their use.


County Clerk Mary Herrera has requested 183 Sequoia Edge touch-screen voting machines to join the 300 the county has used at early voting sites since 2002.


County clerks across the state were required this month to choose between two styles of voting machines approved by Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron: the touch-screen system and one using paper ballots with optical ballot scanners.


The goal is to have every polling location equipped with at least one voting machine that complies with the federal Help America Vote Act.


Herrera said the touch-screen machines can easily show ballot choices in other languages and the type size can be enlarged.


Paper ballots used in the county are often double-sided, with the wording in small type that makes it difficult to read, Herrera said.


"Think about all these folks you're going to disenfranchise standing in lines," she said.


Not everybody is pleased with the touch-screen devices.


California attorney Lowell Finley and Albuquerque attorney John Boyd have sued the secretary of state on behalf of eight New Mexico voters who believe the Sequoia machines malfunctioned in Bernalillo County and other counties last year.


The lawsuit seeks to prohibit the state from using Sequoia's touch-screen machines again. Neither attorney could be reached for comment Friday.


Critics have alleged the machines switched votes and lost votes in the 2004 election. They also contend they're difficult for disabled people to use.


They have called on the state to select the other state-certified system, the Automark, which uses paper ballots fed into an optical scanner.


Vigil-Giron is prohibited from purchasing the Sequoia machines until a temporary restraining order from the lawsuit is removed, said Ernie Marquez, the state's elections director.


Of the state's 33 counties, 19 chose the Automark system, equaling 417 machines, Marquez said.


The 14 counties that chose the touch-screen system include the state's largest, including Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Sandoval, and Do?a Ana, Marquez said. They equal 893 requested Sequoia machines, he said.


Herrera said the touch-screen machines run about $3,500 each. The Automark system - which requires a choice between two approved optical devices - cost about $10,000 for all of its components, Herrera said.


The county in 2002 bought 300 of the touch-screen systems, which have been used only at early voting locations. Those machines were purchased with a $2.3 million interest-free state loan, Herrera said.


The Sequoias will come without a component that provides a paper read-out of each voter's choices, like a receipt. The state Legislature has mandated that the devices - at around $1,000 each - be in use by 2007, she said.


Herrera said the new machines will accompany the 1,100 Shouptronic push-button-style machines used since 1984 at polling places for the June 6 primary election.


Associated Press contributed to this report.


Copyright 2005, The Albuquerque Tribune. All Rights Reserved.



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