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Judge eyed on ballots
By Shea Andersen for the Albuquerque Tribune 10 November 2004

A Republican judge in one voting precinct has some explaining to do, Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said this morning.

As the weary clerk's staff continued to examine provisional ballots, attention gathered on one batch in which the disqualified ballots all were Democrat and those that qualified were Republican, Herrera said.

Herrera's staff had been combing through 2,000 "questionable" ballots, which led to the certification of 1,400 of them.

Those that weren't certified bothered her staff. The main reason for disqualifying them, she said, was because an affidavit testifying to the voter's identity, which is supposed to be signed by a presiding judge, was not in the outer of two envelopes that are supposed to be turned in to election workers. That rule was prescribed by New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron.

Today Herrera said a Republican presiding judge in one particular precinct was in charge of several hundred bad ballots. The problem, Herrera said, was that the bad ballots, with affidavits inside, were largely Democrats. The good ones were for Republican voters.

"It made us kind of sick," Herrera said. "It was too obvious."

Herrera did not know which precinct had the problems, but she planned to meet with the presiding judge today.

"Right now I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt," Herrera said. "I'm hoping they wouldn't do that purposely. I will talk to that presiding judge."

The county had 11,200 provisional ballots and 1,800 in-lieu-of ballots cast in the Nov. 2 election. As of this morning, about 4,900 provisional ballots had been disqualified, most because the voters weren't on the registration list, and 4,400 were qualified.

More than 3,000 ballots remained to be reviewed by clerks as of late Tuesday, Herrera said.

The paper provisional ballots were given to people who appeared at a polling place on Election Day but whose names did not appear on voter rolls.

Herrera said she did not have a breakdown of the qualified votes - which were cast for President Bush and which for John Kerry.

The protracted vote-counting process has distressed authorities and political parties across the state.

Other ballot problems can be attributed to error on the voters' part.

"It's a heck of a time to become a first-time voter in New Mexico," said Amanda Cooper, director of Moving America Forward, a political action committee started by Gov. Bill Richardson to register new Hispanic and American Indian voters.

Cooper said she was dismayed to find that human error might keep thousands of people from casting legitimate ballots.

"This is new to people," Cooper said of the provisional ballot process.

The ballots are mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act, which was signed by President Bush in 2002.

Republicans who were sitting down at the Bernalillo County warehouse watching county workers sort and count provisional ballots said they weren't surprised to see so many ballots get disqualified.

"It's not a great surprise that a huge number haven't made it through the gantlet here," said Representative-elect Justine Fox-Young, an Albuquerque Republican.

Fox-Young said part of the blame for invalid provisional ballots lay in third-party registration drives like Cooper's.

"We'll always have problems with the registration process," said Fox-Young. "There's really no accountability."

Indeed, Herrera said Monday she had turned over to State Police as many as 200 registration forms she believed were fraudulently filled out.

"They were addresses that we couldn't even enter," Herrera said.

Elsewhere in the state, election workers were dealing with the same headaches: Do?a Ana, Taos and Sandoval counties were still qualifying ballots, and San Juan, McKinley, Rio Arriba and Eddy counties were counting the ballots that did qualify. The deadline for having the canvass completed is Friday.

Tribune Reporter Ed Asher contributed to this report.


Reasons for disqualifying provisional ballots:

Not on the list: The most common error, according to Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera. Voters who think they are on the voter rolls actually aren't.

Wrong envelope: Provisional ballots have two envelopes. The outer envelope needs to have proper identification material. A ballot turned in without that material, or with the material in the inner envelope, is disqualified. State law forbids the opening of inner envelopes except on qualified ballots.

Just an autograph: If a voter's identification information doesn't match their certificate of registration, a signature that matches cannot serve as verification of that ballot, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State.

Unfinished: Many disqualified ballots may not have had all the proper information filled out where needed. This can range from name or address to social security numbers.

Source: Bernalillo County Clerk's Office, New Mexico secretary of state


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