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Loan provided to maintain software of NM voting equipment
Las Cruces Sun News. May 20, 2008. By BARRY MASSEY Associated Press Writer

SANTA FE—The secretary of state has received a $153,000 emergency loan to help pay for maintenance of the paper ballot voting systems used for elections in New Mexico.

The loan is to address complaints from counties about high prices for maintenance charged by the sole vendor of the voting equipment, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software, known as ES&S.

The state Board of Finance approved the loan on Tuesday but Gov. Bill Richardson urged Secretary of State Mary Herrera's staff to work with counties to have them pay a share of the maintenance costs rather than the state picking up the full tab.

The loan will cover six months of maintenance and support for software and firmware for more than 3,000 voting machines, including optical scanners in polling places that tabulate paper ballots and ballot marking machines for people with disabilities.

Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo told the board that the office might have found enough money to pay for a full year of maintenance—about $306,000—but that a short-term loan was needed to immediately implement maintenance agreements for all counties until budget analysts could verify adequate money was available. The state will hold its primary election on June 3.

Trujillo said interest had not been credited to a fund that previously held election money provided by the federal government. The interest is estimated to total $166,000. That, along with other state money in the fund, could pay for the software maintenance.

Maintenance costs have been the subject of complaints from counties since an initial one-year warranty expired last fall on the paper ballot voting equipment the state purchased in 2006 from ES&S. New Mexico used federal money received under the Help America Vote Act to buy the equipment. But unlike some other states, New Mexico didn't use the federal money to pay for multiyear maintenance agreements for its new voting system.

Richardson vetoed legislation earlier this year that would have required the state—rather than the counties—to pay all maintenance costs of the paper ballot voting systems.

At the board meeting, the governor reiterated his position that counties should pay some costs.

"The counties should help. They're getting a free ride," Richardson said. "The counties do a good job but they should assume a little bit of financial responsibility."

However, county clerks see it differently.

"The state chose these machines. The counties had no input on the choice of these machines. So all the maintenance in our mind should be covered by the state," Sheryl Nichols, chief deputy clerk in Los Alamos County and president of a county clerks group affiliated with the New Mexico Association of Counties, said in a telephone interview. "The counties don't have the money to pay for this. The maintenance is exorbitant. It's beyond our capacity as a county to pay for this maintenance."

At issue are agreements that serve almost like an insurance policy for costs of maintaining or upgrading the voting system software, such as that used to accumulate and report election results or to program the voting machine used by people with disabilities.

The loan obtained from the Board of Finance will not cover maintenance of hardware, such as the optical scanners used to count ballots. If a machine must be repaired or a part replaced, counties will be responsible for those costs, according to Trujillo, unless they have a hardware maintenance agreement with ES&S. The estimated yearly cost for hardware maintenance and support agreements is about $800,000 for all 33 counties.


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