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Rio Arriba County to Reconstruct 2000 Early Voting Results

By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer
    The Secretary of State's Office plans to reconstruct Rio Arriba County's early voting results from the 2000 general election in the wake of a Washington Post article that contends presidential votes weren't recorded for 678 early voters.
    Officials with the state Bureau of Elections on Tuesday said that while there was a programming error with the electronic machines used during early voting in the county, the glitch in no way affected the results of any race and that overall tallies were correct.
    "There weren't any lost votes," said state Elections Director Denise Lamb. She said every vote cast was recorded and counted.
    Steve Fresquez, a computer specialist with the elections bureau, said some of the comments attributed to him in the Post article were taken out of context.
    "I wasn't trying to slander Rio Arriba County ...," he said. "I was disappointed in the way he used the remarks."
    The Post is standing by its story.
    "We quoted them saying that they thought the votes were counted in aggregate elsewhere, but in fact they don't show up anywhere," said reporter Dan Keating, who wrote the article.
    Keating said he's interested in what the state review turns up and that a follow-up article would likely be published once the review is completed.
    The article, published Sunday, pointed to the so-called missing votes in Rio Arriba County as an example of how serious miscounts that could sway elections can occur if computerized machines aren't programmed correctly.
    Democrat Al Gore won New Mexico's five electoral votes in the 2000 presidential election when he carried the state by only 366 votes— about half of the number of votes the Post says weren't counted in Rio Arriba County.
    "This is a strike against the voters' confidence in these machines," Fresquez said Tuesday. He said he hopes to be able to determine just how many people cast early ballots and show that all the votes cast were counted.
    Voting machine tapes and other election materials are typically destroyed 22 months after an election, Lamb said. But by some fluke, Fresquez said, election materials from the 2000 election are still in storage. He said he planned to begin looking at the tapes, voter registration rolls and other materials today to reconstruct the early-voting results.
    According to the certified election results for the general election in Rio Arriba County, 2,366 people voted early. There were only 1,688 votes cast for president. The 678-vote discrepancy translates into just under 30 percent of the early voters not casting ballots for president.
    Lamb admits that such a percentage is way off the map— historically, she said, the number of people not casting votes in a particular race hovers around 6 percent.
    She and Fresquez surmise that the total number of early voters reported by the county was too high. Fresquez estimated that there were likely 1,600 or 1,700 early voters in the county that year, instead of the 2,366 listed in the official results.
    Lamb said part of the problem was that the county didn't have a separate machine for each of three state House of Representative districts during early voting.
    While voters were only able to vote for the candidates in their districts, using one machine made it impossible to split the votes for national, state and countywide races among the respective legislative districts, as required by state law.
    The problem was discovered after canvassing the voting results had begun and the county was told to do the best it could, Lamb said.
    The official results eventually showed 203 people voting early in House District 3. But the results show no District 3 votes being cast for president or any other races except for state legislative contests.
    The official early voting results for legislative House District 40, meanwhile, show that 569 people voted early. State Rep. Nick Salazar, who ran unopposed, captured all 569 of those votes, according to the results. But fewer than 200 District 40 votes were counted for other races, including president.
    In House District 41, 1,594 people cast early votes, according to the official results. The results show that 1,500 of the district's early voters cast votes for president.
    "I'm sure the votes were recorded; it's just they weren't able to record them in the right district," Fresquez said.
    Lamb said some of the early votes for president and other races in Districts 3 and 40 were likely lumped in with the District 41 results.
    Also, she said, the county probably double-counted some early voters while trying to sort everything out, resulting in final results that showed significantly more voters than actual votes cast in some races.
    She said that District 3, for example, had fewer than 20 early votes cast in 1998, compared to the 203 the county reported for the district in 2000.
    Rio Arriba County Clerk Fred Vigil did not return several messages left at his office Tuesday. But on Monday he said he had no knowledge of the problems mentioned in the article, and he said he was in contact with the Bureau of Elections on the matter

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