The New Mexico Independent
Multiple problems with Nebraska-based ES&S cited, including high cost of maintenance for the company's voting tabulators
By Trip Jennings 7/17/09 12:01 AM
[photo] es&s M100 voting tabulator
The ES&S M100 voting tabulator is
an example of voting equipment
election officials may decide to scrap
SANTA FE – New Mexico spent $18 million on a new paper ballot system just three years ago.
But state and county elections officials are so frustrated with the cost of maintaining New Mexico’s fleet of new voting tabulators and voting machines for the disabled that they’re considering scrapping the equipment in favor of leasing new machines.
Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo II told state lawmakers Thursday that his agency is investigating the idea of leasing equipment and, later in an interview, added that it was a “serious move.”
“We are investigating the possibility of completely changing systems,” Trujillo said Thursday following a legislative meeting at the state Capitol. “The county clerks have asked us to look at that possibility, as long as there isn’t a $20 million up front to buy a bunch of new machines. We wouldn’t expect the Legislature to buy into this.”
Trujillo mentioned Premier Elections as the firm that the state is contacting to see if it could supply such services.
Trujillo and the president of an association of local elections officials cautioned Thursday that there were many unanswered questions, and that a decision to change voting systems, if it ever came to that, is still several years off.
But the news that elections officials are so dissatisfied with the state’s current voting system comes only three years after New Mexico converted to a paper ballot system and spent $18 million to buy more than 1,900 voting tabulators and specially designed voting machines for the disabled.
The state purchased the equipment from Nebraska-based ES&S. A representative of ES&S could not be reached Thursday night for reaction.
The impetus for the possible revolt is two fold, officials said. First and foremost, the price ES&S wants to charge the state for maintaining the machines New Mexico bought when it converted to the paper ballot system has angered many elections officials. Secondly, there’s the “overall unreliability of the ES&S equipment. ES&S equipment will just stop working. No warning. No reason,” added Sheryl Nichols, president of the New Mexico County Clerks Affiliate, an association for local elections officials.
As of now, most of the state’s voting tabulators and voting machines for the disabled are not covered by a maintenance agreement because of what ES&S is charging for the service, officials said.
Originally ES&S wanted $1.3 million to maintain the voting equipment. In 2007, the firm sent bills for maintenance to New Mexico’s 33 counties, who have custody of most of the state’s more than 1,900 voting tabulators and more than a thousand voting machines for the disabled. The price left many counties in sticker shock. And most counties balked at paying.
Recently, ES&S sent a new cost estimate for maintenance and for training technicians to provide that maintenance — just under $600,000, Trujillo said.
Trujillo said he hadn’t had time to carefully read the offer.
Trujillo insisted that announcing publicly that the state was considering the leasing of voting equipment was a serious possibility and not just a negotiating tactic to force down ES&S’s price.
“But it doesn’t hurt as a negotiating tactic,” he said.
He added that there’s a possibility of the state staying with ES&S “if the price is right.”
Some state lawmakers left the meeting disgusted after hearing all the problems associated with finding reasonably priced maintenance for the state’s voting equipment.
“It’s really sad that the state has wasted this much money,” state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said of the state’s spending on the new system three years ago.
© 2009 The New Mexico Independent