Author Archives: akteson

Release of the New Mexico 2010 Election Administration Report

Today we released our 2010 New Mexico Election Administration report authored by myself, R. Michael Alvarez, Lisa Bryant and Alex Adams (both PhD students at the University of New Mexico). The report is publicly available here.

The 2010 study is a continuation of our examination of the election landscape in New Mexico. This is the 3rd report in a series that we began, along with Thad Hall, in 2006. The report uses qualitative and quantitative data to examine election administration in New Mexico. It provides administrative and legislative recommendations for New Mexico, but also has information that will be helpful to other states interested in improving their election process. The report focuses on evaluating the election through Election Day observations, an assessment of poll worker training, and a survey of poll workers and voters.

King Conservation District Holds Largest Online Election

The largest Internet voting election in the US is currently taking place in King County, Washington. Registered voters must first FAX, mail or email their signatures to the private company conducting the election to confirm their identity after which they are sent an ID code to vote online. Motivation for the online election stems from reduced election administration costs ($1 million for an all mail election and only $50K for the online one) and the hopes of increased turnout.  You can read about the election here.

NM Introduces Voter ID Bill

The New Mexico legislature has introduced a voter ID bill. Both the newly elected Governor Susana Martinez and newly elected GOP Secretary of State Dianna Duran supported voter ID during their general election campaigns.  The new bill, which can be downloaded here, seems inconsistent.  New Mexico’s current law requires that all in-person voters provide their name, address and birth year before they are allowed to vote or choose another option such as presenting a driver’s license, utility bill or voter registration card, which is sent to all voters by the Secretary of State.  Mike, Thad, and I along with Lisa Bryant (PhD candidate at UNM) and Kyle Saunders (Associate Professor at Colorado State University) have written on New Mexico’s law and its inconsistent application across and within precincts (see Electoral Studies 29(1):66-73).  But, the new law, at least as I read it, would require that all in-person voters show a state or tribal issued identification card to vote, but if they didn’t have one, it would allow voters to simply supply their year of birth and if it matches what’s on the voter rolls they would be allowed to vote. Also, the bill doesn’t address absentee voting at all, which voters in NM agree is the most likely place for fraud to occur. Our 2010 statewide voter survey results indicate that 66% of voters think it is a problem that absentee voters do not have any authentication process and 65% think that if voting fraud occurs at all it is more likely to take place in absentee voting than in in-person voting (12%) with the remaining 23% saying they don’t know.

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver and her Deputy Robert Adams Receive Award

Friday I attended an award ceremony in the Rotunda of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe for Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver and her Deputy Robert Adams. The award was the “2010 Distinguished Service Award” from Verified Voting NM and United Voters of NM. The award was for their excellent work as local election officials. Specifically, the award givers noted that:

–They pioneered in the intensified testing of procedures for hand counting ballots and auditing results, as newly mandated by state law. Based on their experience, Maggie sent a personal letter to her county clerk colleagues across the state, suggesting step-by-step guidelines for carrying out the logistics of that post-election audit.
–They distributed a public flyer in 4/09 urging voters to tell what they thought of how the county handled the 11/08 general election, and held a public forum to gather citizen input on their experiences, concerns and suggestions. They also made clear their office is ready to meet with concerned citizens on an appointment basis.
–They issued on their website and by e-mail a 3-page fact-packed info memo in advance of the 2010 Primary Election on the Internet, with clear instructions to citizens on how to check registration and voting site, where and how to early vote, how to download absentee ballot applications and check on their status, and how to phone and e-mail the clerk office. The message included links to sample ballots for each polling location, and how to phone and e-mail the clerk office, arrange challengers and watchers and how to apply for poll worker jobs. They did this also for the 2008 Primary.
— They doubled the size and increased the number of early voting sites to reduce long lines, and added computers and regional supervisors at each so that problems can be addressed on site. They recruited two extra poll workers for every site to help with everything from questions to crowd control. They expanded office phone capacity so it can handle 182 calls at a time, 15,000 in an hour.
–They examined historical and projected turnout numbers and ordered enough ballots to accommodate a 30% turn out at early voting sites within a 3-mile radius of a voter’s precinct and a 10% turnout for those further away – this to reduce cost of ballots ordered but unused.
–They implemented a pilot program to see whether split shifts might work for poll workers.
–They secured a $20,000 grant from the Federal Election Commission to involve high school students in a mock election, simulating the upcoming general election, and aimed at raising student consciousness of the importance of voting.

Mike, Thad and I have had the pleasure of working with Maggie, Robert and their staff and they are an incredible team! They are innovative, thoughtful, smart, open, and hardworking. This is well deserved.


Permanent Absentee Voting

In New Mexico there is no law supporting permanent absentee voter status. But apparently some county clerks maintain lists of people who have requested permanent absentee status. This came out recently when Bernalillo County clerk decided to end the practice in order to be consistent with the law. I don’t know how widespread this is, but when I did a quick Google search, I found articles suggesting that New Mexico is not alone in this informal practice. In 2008, there was a lawsuit on this issue in Michigan.

NM Human Services Must Provide Voter Registration Forms to Clients

A federal judge in New Mexico ruled that the New Mexico Human Services Department has not been fulfilling their obligations under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The court ruled that registration forms must be provided to clients whether they ask for them or not and that the Secretary of State has the responsibility to ensure that state offices comply with NVRA. Here’s a news story on it and you can download the opinion from here.

New York Judge Rules in Favor of Machine Counts

Today I had lunch with Professor Philip Stark (Department of Statistics, UC Berkeley).  He’s an expert witness for the Democrats in Nassau County, New York, where a close race (difference of 451 votes, out of about 85000 votes cast) held the New York State Senate in balance until Saturday.  The Democrats were seeking a full recount of all optical scan machines because apparently the 3% post election recount showed that some ballots were not counted –there were more ballots in the box than counted by the machine.  However, according to news reports Republicans argued that the court should use the electronic results regardless  unless the machine broke down.  Professor Stark’s prepared remarks, who in the end was not allowed to testify but some of his remarks were read into the record,  can be found here and several other stories can be found here and here on the matter.

New Mexico Selects Random Precincts for Post Election Ballot Audit

On Friday, November 12, 2010, I observed the random sampling for the New Mexico post election ballot audit. It took about 2 hours to randomly select (using 7 differently colored 10 sided dice) the 42 statewide precincts to audit.  All ballots, including early, Election Day and absentee will be audited from each of the 42 precincts for Judge of the Court of Appeals-Position 1.  This stateside ballot item represents the closest state contest (1.7% margin) and as such has the largest number of precincts for hand recounting.  Other offices that will be audited include all three of the US House contests (CD1 22 precincts, CD2 5 precincts and CD3 4 precincts) and the statewide gubernatorial contest (9 precincts).  Each of these offices will be recounted using a subset of the 42 precincts that were picked for the smallest margin.

The law is meant to ensure with at least 90% probability that faulty tabulators did not elect the wrong person for these offices.  To my knowledge, New Mexico is the only state to base their audit on a risk limiting premise.

The precinct selection process unfolded in the following way.  The auditors hired to do the sampling had 2 spreadsheets.  The first, the “precinct” spreadsheet, contained the voter registration totals for each precinct in the state and a column that cumulates the total number of voters in the order they appear in the file.  A second spreadsheet recorded each dice roll and identified the precinct selected by matching the resulting normalized number to the precinct whose cumulative number the normalized dice roll number is within.  The normalized formula equals the number rolled on the dice +1 divided by 10,000,000 and then multiplied by the total number of registered voters (about 1.15 million voters).  My understanding is that this method of selection creates an increased probability for larger precincts to be selected than smaller precincts.

In watching and thinking about the process, I think the biggest risk is that voter registration numbers are used for precincts instead of turnout totals.  Although New Mexico had 1,152,821 million registered voters for the 2010 general election only about 602,285 participated in the election (about 52% turnout) and these are not randomly distributed across precincts since some precincts turn out at higher percentages than other precincts.  These numbers were used, however, because they were available and there is likely a high correlation between precinct size and precinct turnout.  However, and we had a lively and productive discussion about this, it would be much better to use actual turnout in selecting precincts.  One possibility is that unofficial turnout data could be obtained for each precinct and these numbers would be much closer to actual turnout than voter registration numbers.  Unofficial turnout changes only slightly and is mostly due to the addition of provisional voters to precincts and to data entry errors.

Hand recounting will begin this week and the law provides for an escalation procedure if discrepancies are found.  Although there might be some problems with implementation and some may have some issues with the nature of the post election law, there is no doubt that New Mexico is a leader in election reform in this area and has made substantial progress over the last 4 year in implementing new voter systems and post election ballot audits.

I have attached a link that is a copy of the handout provided to us at the State Capitol where the random selection process took place.  It includes the law, the procedures followed and an example of how the two files were set up to select precincts.

New Searchable Database on State Recount and Audit Laws

Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota have developed a very useful tool on state laws on election audits and recounts that can be found on their web site at:

The web site provides a detailed description of each state’s recount and post election auditing laws. It also provides information on the types of machines each state uses, though not by jurisdiction. The information includes details that trigger an automatic recount, whether and how a candidate can obtain a recount, the cost of candidate initiated recounts, and rules on post election audit recounts. It also provides information on the role of challengers and observers in the counting process and rules for determining voter intent.

Users can click on a state to find out the details for each state. Users can also use a searchable data base that allows the researcher to compare across states among various search fields such as voting system used, counting method, initiating mechanism, close vote margin options, candidate initiated options, voter initiated options, cost of candidate initiated options, costs of voter initiated options, challenger and observers, rules for determining voter intent, and audit laws.

In addition, the authors of the web site grappled with the fact that many states use the same words to describe different processes. For example “recount,” “automatic” and “mandatory” mean very different things across states. To deal with the issue they came up with meaningful distinctions and consistent language to describe these unique processes.

The database they have built is very useful and provides one-stop shopping for the laws within and across states related to this issue. This will be useful to many in the election community. Thanks for the good work Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota.