Thursday, February 7, 2008

SUPER TUESDAY PRIMARIES: New Mexico Faces Questions of Process Integrity in Democratic Caucus

Reports from New Mexico are demonstrating a range of problems that faced voters during the Super Tuesday "nationwide primary" Democratic party caucuses there. The New Mexico caucus system is run by the party itself, and involves actual paper ballots, cast by each individual voting. But the list of voters eligible to participate is not maintained by the party itself or by the state, but instead by ES&S, an electronic voting-machine manufacturer.

Whether due to this layered management of the voter registration rolls or not, on the day of the caucus, some 17,000 New Mexicans were required to cast provisional ballots because despite being properly registered, their names did not appear on caucus attendee lists, and their official ballots were not provided.

In an astonishing parallel to this voter access glitch, it has been reported that at least three ballot boxes, full of uncounted ballots, were taken home and kept overnight by a county chairwoman for the Democratic party. The margin separating Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the voting, as this news emerged, was just 217 votes out of 136,000 cast (a difference of just 0.16%). The ballot boxes, which may now be tainted and will likely have to undergo an investigative audit before being counted and added to the totals, could easily contain the votes needed to change the outcome of such a close contest.

While problems with touchscreen voting caused New Mexico to cast aside that option, and to opt for paper instead, it has been reported that a number of precincts saw no paper ballots available and/or a shortage of provisional ballots. Governor Bill Richardson, a would-be presidential candidate in this year's race, has said he is "deeply disturbed by the reports that problems and delays at polling locations may have kept people from voting".

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