Author Archives: akteson

NM Secretary of State sends Letter to Greens, Constitutional, and Independent Party Disqualifying Party

About 6 weeks ago now, I got a call from two different Green voters asking me if they were still eligible to vote because of a letter that they received from New Mexico Secretary of State Diana Duran. The letter was dated November 5, 2013 and said,

          RE: Disqualification of NM Green Party

Dear Green Party registered voter:

In the 2012 General Election, the Green Party’s candidate for president of the United States did not receive the required percentage required     by  law for the Green Party to remain an active political party in New Mexico.

The Secretary of State’s office is required by law to notify all registered Green party voters that the party is no longer a qualified political party.

To re-qualify, the Green party would be required to submit petition signatures and comply with the requirements under the Election Code for political parties.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact our office.

Best regards,

Bobbi Shearer
Director, Bureau of Elections

Of course, Green voters were not deregistered or disqualified, although their party was, but the letter was a bit ambiguous, especially given the fact that a high profile anti-abortion city initiative was on the ballot in the city of Albuquerque on November 19 and early voting had already begun. I called the Green Party and they indicated to me that they received a number of calls from concerned party members that they would not be able to vote in the city election.

The law indicates, as reported by Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican, see here, that the Secretary of State is supposed to provide notification by March 15 to the party chair and within 45 days of that to all party members of the disqualification. She is also supposed to inform all of the county clerks of her decision. However, the Secretary of State did not keep to this timeline, even once she decided to move forward with disqualification and never contacted the County Clerks regarding this matter.

The Constitution Party has filed suit based upon the fact that she did not follow the timeline or inform the county clerks as was required by law (NM statue 1-7-2).

The biggest concern, however, is that some registered voters thought that as the party goes so do they; thus quite a number of Greens along with Constitution and Independent Party members thought they may have been disqualified and unable to vote. Given that this happened during a high stakes city election in which turnout was higher than in the previous months mayoral election, it is even more disconcerting. Some eligible voters may have decided not to turnout because they thought incorrectly they were no longer legitimately registered voters. A simple fix would have been to make the implications of the law clear to the voter and include in the letter an added sentence indicating that disqualification of the party, does not imply disqualification of the voter.

Election Blogger Defined as Inactive at Polls

Well, I went to the polls this AM to vote –I get a kick out of voting on Election Day, that symbolic moment when we all come together to make a decision; it’s sort of romantic. But, lo and behold, when I gave the poll worker my name there was something odd written next to it on the paper voter rolls –INACTIVE. As a regular voter, even in tiny school board elections, who hasn’t moved and never received a card stating I was at risk of being purged from the polls, I was a bit shocked. Fortunately, I was allowed to vote a regular ballot, though the poll workers did request I fill out a new voter registration form. However, as I filled it out, I realized there was a problem because I wasn’t an inactive voter and I hadn’t moved. So, when the form asked something like, do you agree for us to cancel your voter registration in county x and state x, I realized I didn’t agree, indeed I wanted my status to be reinstated to active not canceled and reentered. Moreover, my understanding of the law is that if I voted from an inactive status I would once again revert to active status. Therefore, given the glitch was clerical and there were no changes to my voter information, the poll workers should have done nothing and let me return to my true state of activity!

The issue of purging voters has been a front burner election topic with our current Secretary of State who is concerned that the voter roles may have people on it who are not regular voters (go here). Amusingly, I join prominent political wives and election reform activists who were determined “inactive” in a recent Secretary of State mailing. Obviously, something is wrong with the process of identifying inactive voters.

This brings up a more important point; keeping voter lists “clean” may have unintended consequences like purging legitimate voters who have a right to vote. We included a question on our NM Election Administration Voter Survey this year that asks voters if they are concerned they might be accidentally purged from the voter file. Let’s just say after my own experience today, I’m a bit more concerned myself and interested in seeing how average voters feel about this issue.

New Voter Guide App

Professor Elizabeth Bergman at Cal State University East Bay has designed a voting app for iPad, iPhones and Android devices. The Voter Guide Now app was developed to provide an easy method for voters to access information about candidates and legislation on federal, state, county and city ballots. All the user has to do is enter an email and street address. You can read more about the app here. This is interesting and innovative work and I commend Professor Bergman for her efforts in helping to build greater voter literacy.

Simple Ways to do Risk Limiting Auditing

I’m at the Election Verification Network Conference being held in my home town of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We’ve heard some great talks on ballot security, usability, Internet voting , election auditing, etc.

I’d like to highlight a talk by Philip Stark on a fairly simple process that states could employ to do a risk limiting post election audit. I’ve provided links below to his slides and papers on this topic.

Today’s slides are here:

His paper that talks about ballot-polling audits is here:

His paper on evidence-based elections is here:

Report on Albuquerque Municipal Elections, October 4, 2011

Last Tuesday, October 4, the city of Albuquerque held its non partisan municipal election. The city moved from a traditional precinct based Election Day model with 98 consolidated precinct locations to 49 vote centers allowing voters to vote at any location in the city. The city ballot was pretty thin with only 2 competitive district races, but included some bonds as well as an advisory referendum on whether Albuquerque should keep its red-light camera program. Interestingly, despite the lack of competitive contests, turnout was up on an unusually wet Albuquerque day with approximately 15% of registered voters turning out, which is up about 5% from 2 years ago when the city experienced a competitive three way mayoral race. Thus, the red light camera issue must have mobilized votes (which went down 53% to 47%).

My teams of graduate and undergraduate students in research design courses were out in the field observing voting and the implementation of the new voting system. The city used both ballot on demand printers, electronic poll books, and a network connection to access voter information and upload voting information so that voters could not hop from one vote center to another voting multiple times.

There were quite a number of glitches to the system as they day started. Several presiding judges were unable to login to the system and relatively soon after opening many vote centers’ network went down, preventing them from accessing voter information through the network. In some cases, voters were encouraged to go to other locations or come back later, but in some locations presiding judges just sent voters on their way with no clear advice. To get the system up and running many vote centers had to revert to their local server and not connect to the Internet. This had to be done by technical experts as judges were not trained on this contingency. By about 10:30 AM things smoothed out and systems started functioning at least locally to process voters effectively. Over the course of the day, vote centers appeared to move back and forth between the network and the local server to process voters.

There was a lot of variation in how these problems affected voters. In some places, these problems and other issues, for example Sandia High School also witnessed a fire drill, which led to some incredibly long lines. Some voters waited over an hour to vote. Processing the ballots was the major culprit in these cases as we only saw lines to check-in, but there were never lines for voting or for placing the ballot into the M-100 optical scanner. Although two computers and printers were in every location, some vote centers needed more stations to process voters efficiently. We saw Sandia High School get an upgrade to 3 processing stations around 5:00 PM, a much needed item given the approximately 70 people standing in line waiting to vote.

We also saw quite a bit of variance on voter identification. Albuquerque, unlike the state of New Mexico, has a voter photo id law. While most judges processed voter’s identification without any problems, some presiding judges used strict rules for names. So, if a voter was Bob in the voter registration file, but showed a photo id with Robert, the voter was given a provisional ballot. This also affected a number of senior women, who were registered as Mrs. Joe Smith for example, but of course, have no photo id with that identity. This is a potentially troubling aspect of voter identification laws and the principal agent problems associated with Election Day activities.

It was clear that vote centers are all about location, location, location. Locations on major streets and in major work areas were quite busy. Locations tucked away within neighborhoods and off the beaten path had short lines, if any. We were in one vote center that processed over 1000 people on Election Day and went to another one in the same district that process only a few hundred. Thus, careful planning of locations is essential.

New Mexico SOS Turns Over 64,000 Registered Voters for Potential Fraud Investigation

The New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran has provided 64,000 registered voter names to the New Mexico State Police for fraud examination. This represents about 5.3% of all registered voters and about 7.7% of voters in the 2010 election.  No details were given on how these voters were identified, but that represents an enormous number of records to work through.  No process was identified for how the New Mexico State Police would examine the records or how long it would take to review them.  More information about this story can be found here.

The article mentions the possibility of administrative errors.  This is very likely.  My own experience with working with voter registration files is that they are somewhat dirty.  By that I mean the file consists of missing data, incorrect data, duplicate entries, etc (also see an excellent report on the quality of voter registration files by Stephen Ansolabehere and Eitan Hersh).

What is the problem? A major part of the problem is that the data collection and entry process leads to data entry errors.  Individuals register to vote in their own handwriting and then administrative staff interpret and enter the information into the electronic system. Obviously this is a process rife with numerous points for potential error.

One possible solution to this is to move to some sort of electronic registration, perhaps self-registration on-line and/or augmenting information in voter registration files with information from other state and federal databases to obtain more correct information.  See for example the op ed piece by Mike and Dean Logan.

As the investigation progresses, it is worthwhile for us to understand the process.  One thing we can learn from the process is where the problems exist and how to fix them.  This is an opportunity for us to collect important data on administrative problems with the voter registration process.

Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office Does Focus Group with Presiding Judges

Denise Lamb, the Deputy County Clerk in Santa Fe County, contacted me to share the results of a couple of focus groups her staff ran after the recent election with poll judges. In late April, her election coordinator, Pat Hummer, hosted two focus groups for presiding judges to, “find out their thoughts about how we could improve elections.” The focus groups were very productive and Pat built the attached spreadsheet summarizing her findings and the actions they will take in response.

This is an awesome idea and one in which Mike, Thad and I advocate in a book we are writing on evaluating elections. I have posted Denise and Pat’s outcome report here Summary of Results of the PJ Focus Group because I think this provides a great example of how feedback can lead to productive and positive changes in election administration practices and how LEOs can seek out useful information fairly cheaply.

A number of the policy changes in the summary are consistent with recommendations we have made based upon our election observations and our surveys of poll workers, which shows how different types of data collection methods can produce complimentary results and reinforce findings. In addition, many new items appeared that could inform future data collection efforts and tweaks in current election administration practices.

Awards at Election Verification Network Conference

The Election Verification Network gave 3 awards last night to individuals working on important areas relating to election reform and election administration.

The first person was Professor J. Alex Halderman at the University of Michigan. He is a computer scientists who demonstrated the first (known) voting machine virus and recently with his students participated in a public trial of an Internet voting system fielded in Washington, D.C.  His team was able to take control of the servers and change every vote within 36 hours.

The second person is Professor Philip B. Stark at the University of California Berkeley. He is known for his work on post eleciton audit standards and developed the notion of “risk-limiting audits.” In collaboration with election officials, he conducted the first six risk-limiting audits and helped draft California AB 2023, which requires a pilot of risk-limiting audits.

The third person is Jennie Bretschneider, Assistant Chief Deputy and Counsel, California Secretary of State. She was the lead staffer on the 2007 Post-Election Audit Standards Working Group, which was instrumental in paving the way for risk-limiting audits and subsequent legislation for a pilot project of small-batch and ballot-level risk-limiting audits.


Election Verification Network Conference

I’m at the Election Verification Network Conference in Chicago. This is a very interesting conference with lots of different types of folks, including election officials, election administrators, activists, interest groups, EAC and NIST staff, attorneys, and academics from a variety of fields. It’s a great example of people across areas meeting to work on policy concerns around elections and sharing ideas, new methods, concerns,and advances.

Conference topics include: auditing, ballot design, Internet voting, overseas and military voting methods, IRV and rank choice voting, new voting technologies, and election protection.

More to come.

NM Secretary of State Examines Voter Registration File for Fraudulent Voters

The New Mexico Secretary of State testified in a morning legislative hearing on Tuesday, March 15 that her office has merged the Motor Vehicle Division file with the statewide voter registration file and has found 37 people who she believes are non-citizens who voted between 2003 and 2010. New Mexico is one of three states that issues driver licenses to undocumented workers. We do not, however, yet know the details of her match or whether those identified could have become citizens after they received their driver licenses or whether there were possible administrative errors that might have led to mismatches between files. The SOS received the data from the NM Motor Vehicle Division yesterday and is continuing to examine the file and search for voter fraud. The story is still developing, but you can read various perspectives on it here, here and here.