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Candidate wants answers about missing NM ballots
Las Cruces Sun News. July 10, 2008, By BARRY MASSEY Associated Press Writer

SANTA FE—It remains a mystery what happened to 182 primary election ballots that turned up missing in Cibola County. There's still no explanation five weeks after the election.

Imagine if those ballots went missing after polls closed in the November general election and the eyes of the nation were focused on New Mexico because of a close presidential election. Just turn back the calendar to 2000, when Democrat Al Gore won New Mexico by a mere 366 votes over Republican George Bush.

When the state Board of Canvassing met earlier this month to accept statewide election returns from the primary, there was no public discussion by its members about the missing paper ballots or what to do about them. The board meets again Friday to certify results of recounts in two races—one of them the Democratic nomination in a state Senate district that includes the two precincts in Cibola County where the ballots remain missing.

Elections officials conducted the recount in those two precincts using memory devices from voting machines, which recorded Election Day tallies. In other precincts, the paper ballots were fed back through a tabulator or were hand counted for the recount.

Gov. Bill Richardson, who is a member of the canvassing board, said recently that the missing ballots haven't changed his support for the state's paper ballot voting system that he helped push to implement in 2006.

"I'd be curious to see what happened," Richardson said of the ballots. "I still stand behind the paper ballots with optical scanner. They've increased confidence of voters ... that when they go to the ballot box their vote counts."

"There are some imperfections there," Richardson acknowledged. "We obviously have to deal with the training of poll workers in counties more effectively."

But Clemente Sanchez of Grants sees it differently. He finished a close second in the three-way race for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 30, although he carried Cibola County by more than 400 votes.

He doggedly has questioned what happened to the ballots as well as how elections officials could do a complete recount without the 182 ballots.

Now—more than a month after the election—Sanchez is discouraged by the lack of answers and what he views as a seemingly lack of interest in the matter by state officials.

"I have no confidence in the whole system at all," Sanchez said in a telephone interview. "I just think that the voters have been hurt by all of this and disenfranchised. It's not about me or about the other candidates. It's about the voters and their voice."

It's possible that a formal inquiry or investigation of the missing ballots may be at hand, however.

District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said he's talked with Attorney General Gary King and expects the attorney general's office to take the lead in an investigation.

"I don't have a commitment yet ... but I believe it's going to move in that direction," he said.

Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for King, will only say that the matter of the missing ballots is under review. He declines to say whether the office has decided to conduct an investigation.

Sanchez just wants answers—and action.

"I just don't think it should be swept under the rug and go on. Somebody or someone has to be held accountable for it," he says.


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