Guest Blog: Lonna R. Atkeson, "Observing the Albuquerque Municipal Election"

Yesterday my graduate political behavior class observed the election process in precincts for the municipal election in Albuquerque. My students learned a lot about the election process during the day and each one of them went to poll worker training before hand so they had a better understanding of the behind the scenes process and the rules governing the election. The election ousted a 3 term incumbent, so it was unusually exciting, though turnout was typically low overall (about 25%). Nevertheless, most people (76%) chose to vote on Election Day, so the consolidated precincts were busy all day.

Perhaps the most important difference between the municipal elections in Albuquerque and statewide elections is the requirement of a photo ID, of any sort –Club membership card, driver’s license, credit card, etc.—whereas in statewide elections the voter ID law is not concrete and allows for a wide array of voter choice for identification including a verbal or written statement attesting to a voter’s name, year of birth and the last four numbers of his or her social security number to presentation of a non-photo or photo id (utility bill, voter registration card, driver’s license). The type of ID used is supposed to be the choice of the voter, but in statewide elections we have seen a lot of variance in how this is implemented both across and within precincts, resulting in somewhat discriminatory practices as both Hispanic and males seem to be required to show an ID more often than non-Hispanics and women. In the city elections, however, we saw a lot of consistency. Sometimes voters put down a voter registration card and they were almost invariably asked for a photo id. We only saw one case in a very, very busy precinct where a poll worker accepted, and we believe it was accidental because of the pressure, a non-photo ID. We also did not see a single voter who did not have an ID and in the precincts we were at no provisional voting occurred because of a lack of ID. However, in an election with higher turnout this policy might affect many more voters. Overall, our qualitative and quantitative data across several election contexts suggests that if states or localities are going to include voter ID laws a strict law is better then an open law in terms of consistent application.

There was an early problem at about a dozen precincts with the M-100 vote tabulators not working. In some of these cases, it appeared to be due to ballot cutting problems that prevented the machine from being able to read the ballots. Technicians were able to solve this problem through recalibration, though sometimes it took several hours. Late in the day, as far as we could tell, all the reported machine problems were no longer an issue.

Besides that we saw generally minor problems in the precincts. For example, precinct consolidation results in voters going to the wrong place and, with so many precincts in a polling location, in several places we saw voters trying to insert their ballot into the “wrong” tabulator. These ballots were rejected and then voters had to find the right machine for tabulation. We also saw several broken Automark machines, one in a nursing home. And, there was one precinct where the poll workers’ chose not to set it up because, “anything you put up, you have to take down.” They also didn’t put up their voting booths. However, this precinct was an outlier. There were also general issues of privacy for voters in some places and the occasional supply issues, signage problems, and precinct set-up problems. But, overall it was a well-run election.

About the author: Lonna R. Atkeson is a Professor and Regents’ Lecturer in the Political Science Department at the University of New Mexico. She studies public opinion and political behavior and is currently involved in several projects related to election reform, evaluation of election performance, and the formation of attitudes. You can find additional information about her at: