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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Accuracy of NM Secretary of State's Voter List Questioned

Heather Clark of the Associated Press has written a thoughtful and comprehensive article discussing problems encountered with the voter lists used at caucus sites during New Mexico's February 5th Democratic presidential caucus. New Mexico's Secretary of State's office, along with those of many other states, contracts with ES&S, a Nebraska-based corporation, to maintain its master list of registered voters.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico used the Secretary of State's list to generate the list used at the caucus sites. According to the Party, the only changes made to the master list were the result of a merge operation conducted by TrueBallot, which added in late additions sent by three counties. The Party contracted with TrueBallot to produce the list used at the caucus sites.

As quoted in the article, reports from caucus volunteers, long-time registered voters who weren't on the caucus site list, the Mora County Clerk and others seem to point to the Secretary of State's list as a likely source of data problems. Excerpts:

In interviews with The Associated Press, several voters and volunteer poll workers pinpointed problems with the voter lists at polling places—and raised the possibility that the trouble may have originated not with the party but with the voter lists Democratic organizers were provided by the Secretary of State's office and county clerks.

In Mora County, for example, where half the voters cast provisional ballots, about 1,000 Democrats were stripped of their party affiliation in the Secretary of State's databank and so were never given to the Democratic Party for the caucus list, County Clerk Charlotte Duran said.

In one Bernalillo County polling place, last names beginning with the letter "A" were missing, said Lynn Jacobs, a volunteer poll worker at the site. In San Miguel County, voters on an entire street did not appear on the list, said Pat Leahan, director of the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center who observed the caucus. And Caucus Director Beth Adams said caucus workers have noticed the names of some people whose addresses were rural routes or post office boxes were not included on the lists.

The names of state Auditor Hector Balderas and state District Judge William Lang—both longtime Democrats and voters—were omitted from the voter lists that were relied on during the Super Tuesday caucus, the two officials said.

A half dozen poll workers said they saw other longtime Democrats try to vote on Super Tuesday only to find their names were not on the lists.

"I had person after person, who had voted in every election, they hadn't moved in years, and were not on the lists," Jacobs said.

Since the lists were provided by Secretary of State Mary Herrera's office, any problems during the caucus could be repeated for the June primary and general election in November.

The question is: Were the problems inherent in the original lists provided by Herrera's office or did the Democrats change the data and inadvertently knock off voters' names?

... Anne Kass, a retired district judge and regular party volunteer, said nearly half those who voted by provisional ballot at the Albuquerque polling place where she worked were regular Democratic voters, who carried their voter ID cards that showed they were in the correct polling place.

"They would say, 'My spouse's name is here. My kids' names are here.' It was bizarre," Kass said.

Kass said the problems on caucus day make her worry about whether they will be repeated in later elections this year.

"I'm concerned about June and November. I'm concerned about the accuracy of elections and have been for some time now," she said.

The Response of the Secretary of State
Unfortunately, NM Secretary of State Mary Herrera and others in her office seem uninterested in determining if there are problems with the state's master list, as produced by ES&S:

A spokesman for Herrera said her office has no immediate plans to investigate reports of missing voter names and is waiting to hear from the Democratic Party about any inadequacies with the lists.

"If there are any discrepancies, it would have been after it would have been received by the Democratic Party. Let them investigate it. Let's find out what really happened," spokesman James Flores said.

The article goes on to debunk this view in regard to at least some of the errors encountered:

But Mora County's missing voter names happened before they handed over their lists to the Democrats, Duran said.

Clerks there discovered after the caucus that about 1,000 Democrats and about 100 Republican voters had been stripped of their party affiliation in the databank. So the Democrats' names were never passed to the party to be included in the caucus lists.

Duran said she contacted Election Systems & Software, which contracts with the state to manage the software, but was unable to get a guarantee that the problem would not crop up again.

"They couldn't answer me or they didn't want to," she said.

... Since 2000, the Nebraska-based company has provided the state with software, which was last updated in December, Flores said. County clerks offices are responsible for updating voter information, which, in turn, automatically updates the Secretary of State's list, he said.

"Everything that the software was supposed to have done before we handed over the list to the Democrats, we're satisfied with," Flores said.

Dem Party Investigation
Meanwhile, the Dem Party has said they will be studying how the caucus was conducted and looking further into complaints about the voter list:

The Democrats say they plan to investigate complaints about voter lists they received. Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colon and Gov. Bill Richardson have scheduled an April 25 summit in Albuquerque to discuss the caucus, and Colon and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish are talking about forming a committee to review the caucus.

"We're going to take a long-term look both at whatever happened at the caucus and whether we're going to hold a caucus and that's going to take a long time," said Josh Geise, the party's interim executive director, who started working for the party about two weeks after the caucus.

... Geise said three counties—San Juan, Santa Fe and Eddy—had late registrants that did not show up on the Secretary of State's Office lists, but were later forwarded to the party as soon as they were available.

The party then turned the lists over to TrueBallot, which it hired to help administer the caucus.

Response by TrueBallot
TrueBallot denies that anything they did in handling the master list would have created the kinds of errors found with the list at caucus sites:

The company's chief information officer, Nick Koumoutseas, said his company merged the initial Secretary of State list with the late registrants from the three counties and managed the databank.

But Koumoutseas said he does not think names were dropped from the Democrats' list during his company's management of them.

"I've been doing this for 13 years and I generally err on the side of having too many instances of voters. I would have the same name in there twice" in cases were addresses were vague or names showed different spellings, he said.

Speculation on DNC VoteBuilder Merge
The article also addresses questions as to whether there was a merge of the State's list with the DNC's VoteBuilder list that might have caused the problems:

Some poll workers and election watchdog groups have speculated that some of the problems may have come up when the state Democratic Party merged the Secretary of State's list with a VoteBuilder list of Democratic voters, which was prepared by the Democratic National Committee.

Adams said the VoteBuilder list was only used after the caucus to help validate voters who cast provisional ballots and was never merged with the Secretary of State's voter list.

Actions Needed
So what should come next? Obviously every effort should be made to determine the source of the list problems so that errors and omissions can be corrected before we vote again at our June primary and the general election in November. Furthermore, we must learn what kind of system or human errors produced the inaccuracies so that additional inaccuracies aren't produced in the coming months. And if we're to trust our election process, any investigation of the problems must be done out in the open, not behind closed doors. We can't allow any examination into the source of the flawed data to end up as just another political blame game full of deceptions and spin -- while the problems fester uncorrected.

The Secretary of State's office needs to stop the finger pointing and begin working with the Democratic Party to produce an honest assessment of what happened with the voter list and what can be done to assure it doesn't happen again in the future. The DPNM needs to reach out to the Secretary of State and begin working with them to get it done, and get it done out in the open so ALL the problems and their causes are exposed.

Paul Stokes, coordinator of United Voters of New Mexico, an electoral watchdog, said he thinks the Democrats should investigate the problems in conjunction with the Secretary of State's office.

"Clearly this needs to be investigated in a transparent way so the public can know what's going on," he said.

P.S. The reason I quoted so much of the article as published in the Las Cruces Sun-News is that the Albuquerque Journal omitted some of the most important passages when it published a version of this story today. Specifically, the Journal's truncated version omitted some of the quotes by caucus site volunteers and did not include the explanation by TrueBallot of their handling of the list and how it was merged with updates from three counties.

February 26, 2008 at 09:48 AM in 2008 Presidential Primary, Democratic Party, Election Reform & Voting | Permalink

Comments

After our investigation of these problems in the caucus, there will be one guarantee; we will have election turnout in unprecidented numbers this upcoming year. "Finger pointing," and blaming will not insure the accuracy that all of us want with the voter lists that will be used in the upcoming primary and general elections. Instead of using blame, I think, we need to find out why some of the errors ocurred. And in my opinion, spending a week of my time validating ballots from absentee to the end of the provisionals for the HRC campaign was at times interesting,yet I believe that all of us involved would have preferred to spend that week doing something else. The paid staff from both the HRC and BHO campaign that remained to the end of the count wanted to move on to their next assignment sooner than later in the counting process.

Posted by: Nili Lange | Feb 26, 2008 4:52:08 PM

The problem lies with the outsourcing of the voter rolls to a private company, the worst that could be possibly be entrusted with the job. If whatever happens between now and the end of the matter results in the severance from all ties with ES&S, that would certainly be a positive step.

Was the original contract for voter roll management with ES&S signed under Vigil-Giron, or was that Herrera?

Posted by: | Feb 26, 2008 8:29:27 PM

The Voter file from the SOS is built from the databases of the individual counties. Voters who who were turned away and called their county clerks were told they were on the rolls . So obviously the problem occurred @ the Democratic parties database not with the SOS ! as I have stated over and over the problem with the caucus was its leadership and that leadership should step aside and let someone with Real Electoral experience take the lead ! If the same leadership is maintained this incompetence will be institutionalized ! As we move into the general election and the DNC and the Obama campaign look at the swing state of New Mexico , the performance of our party leadership will be in question when resources are allocated. This is a historic time in our electoral process and the amount of resources spent in New Mexico will be based off our ability to perform as cohesive Dem Party ! NM goes red in 08 ! will you again blame the national candidate and party for not spending enough money in NM ? this was the excuse Brian Colon and his supporters used to place blame for the failed caucus ! So stop making excuses and put your money where your mouth is and Demand Credibility from our party leadership !

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 27, 2008 1:56:53 AM

Anonymous-You must be one of the cowards who anonymously said they were going to challenge the chair at Saturday's meeting and that you had big support but you didn't do anything did you? Because there is no support for your position.

If the names were on the county list and not on the list maintained by the state-ES&S how do we know that ES&S didn't mess it up? They have in many states. Guess you missed the part of the story above about the Mora County names deleted by the ES&S list.

Everyone knows Richardson dropped the ball on his caucus by not giving enough money or volunteers to work it. That's his fault, not Brian Colon's.

Why do you capitalize words that shouldn't be? Reads like something off the Freeper website.

Posted by: P. Chavez | Feb 27, 2008 8:15:30 AM

Your missing the point as always and by the way why did the party not use Vote Builder ? they paid thousands of dollars for it and its Howard Deans dream of connecting all the parties together , well your leader Colon decided to pay yet another vendor to do the same job that vote builder was supposed to do ! I wonder whose pockets got padded on that sweetheart deal ? isn't that what vote builder is for ? to Run an election ? Answer that question
about your leadership. why did Colon pay to use another system instead of vote builder ? Will you ignore this because your guy is in the position of chair ? oh I bet you and all the sycophants will !

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 27, 2008 9:50:00 AM

Anonymous-you show your ignorance once again. Vote Builder is for walk lists, canvassing, etc. It is NOT a legal data base of registered voters so of course it was not used for the caucus site voter lists. The SOS list is the "official" list of registered voters and is updated frequently by the county clerks.

The merge of late data from three county clerks was handled by True Ballot, which separated the lists according to where people would vote.

Keep talking. You show that you know nothing about the process and are talking out your rear end.

Posted by: P. Chavez | Feb 27, 2008 10:14:27 AM

You understand nothing about political data bases. First of all a political database is always superior to any supplied by any SOS , why ? because a political database is updated by spending money and matching it against national commercial registries. This provides a far superior data base than a municipal or state government can supply because they cant afford to do such in depth maintenance of their voter data base which is only updated after an election cycle , so you have 2 to 4 year lulls in updates from the SOS ! This means your data is old and crusty ! Vote builder was created to maintain a superior voter data base ! Your lack of understanding is obviously based on the line you have been fed to cover up for Colons failure as party leader! Maybe he spent the money he was supposed to use for voter file updates on Cigars ? as for printing the ballots and counting them any college kid with a brain could figure out how to do it for less than 350,000 dollars! Face the fact you progressive ways of doing business @ the party will institutionalize incompetence. 2008 is about transparent and credible government.Stand up and be brave ! when your leadership fails ! and find someone that can lead with credibility . The definition of madness is "doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result." Good Luck and you need some time on the couch .

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 27, 2008 1:42:05 PM

Anonymous....

Honestly, you would be far less credible if you weren't so...anonymous.

Everybody has an angle. What's yours, I wonder?

As P.Chavez indicates, VoteBuilder is not a legal database. It may be a better database, but for the purposes of the recent caucus it was not valid.

The problem that now exists is to understand why the existing SoS database failed (ES&S) for the caucus and how to ensure that it doesn't fail in the future.

Posted by: | Feb 27, 2008 2:03:36 PM

Let me jump in here. Anonymous should sign his comments ignorant and proud of it. The SOS database is updated constantly via the county clerks who add new registrations, etc. I'd like to know of any election that uses a canvassing database instead of the official registered voter list from the government. There are none.

I also think Anonymous should learn how to use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling. His or her comments are an embarrassment in terms of those three things.

By the way, payday loan lobbyist Michael Olguin would have made a truly lousy chair. That's what's really bugging you isn't it? He lost, big time, for all the right reasons.

Posted by: < | Feb 27, 2008 2:27:00 PM

Legal Database ? there is no such thing for a party caucus ! sounds like Colon doublespeak, Show me the party bi-law that says we have to buy "Legal" data from the SOS and cannot update it with superior information to run our own party managed caucus ! and Ill sell you a bridge ! Please people dont attack the messenger, just acknowledge or refute my specific points which all have failed to do! Good Luck
p.s. as a voter file manager is it your job to inform the SOS if they have an inferior database and thousands of voters are missing.

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 27, 2008 2:44:41 PM

You lied about the SOS list. You don't know what you're talking about on the Vote Builder. And you certainly don't understand why SOS data is used for elections. There are no valid points to refute. You are blowing hot air and you still need to learn how to spell and use good grammar. I think it's funny that comments similar to yours always have many misspellings and errors. When brains don't work correctly it shows.

Posted by: | Feb 27, 2008 2:53:59 PM

We have to put Mary Herrera on the hot seat. I don't think she knows what she's doing. She was horrible as Bernalillo County Clerk and from the reactions of her office to questions on the caucus, that will continue.

I don't think she has any idea what's coming at her. She will be challenged on everything, legally challenged if necessary. She's toast.

Posted by: count the votes | Feb 27, 2008 2:57:33 PM

I wonder if this company is akin to diebold in its ownership. Could this company have republican leanings. There was absolutely something wrong with the lists. People who came to the site I was in charge of brought their voter cards. the very ones that former Secretary of state Rebecca Vigil Giron ordered and then took grief over. They were registered voters and had been for many years and still their name did not appear. According to the Albuquerque Journal today , A spokesperson for the Secretary of State's office has made the statement that they don't know what happened to the lists after they left their office. My opinion, I think there should be a top to bottom investigation on all sides.WE have the best chance ever to take congressional seats back and I think this better be resolved before the June primary. Remember we are not only looking at the Presidential election but here in New Mexico all house and senate seats are up. In 2010 we will be doing redistricting which will be with us for the next 10 years. We had better get our act together. I am a proud New Mexican democrat willing to help where ever I can and I do.

Posted by: Stephanie DuBois | Feb 27, 2008 7:33:51 PM

Stephanie,

ES&S is a Nebraska based company which used to have Chuck Hagel as its chairman. Chuck Hagel won his first Senate seat in 1996, a seat which had been held by a Democrat (yes, a Democrat in Nebraska) for 24 years. Hagel was polling behind the Democrat before election day, yet won the election with at least 85% of the votes counted in Nebraska coming from ES&S machines.

Although Hagel was not the chairman of ES&S at the time of his election in 1996, he still owned $5 million in stock of its parent company - which he lied about.

Read this MotherJones article for a Diebold/ES&S connection:
http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2004/03/03_200.html

Also, if you have a spare 1.5 hrs, I have an 11 part YouTube series of a Bob Fitrakis (author of the above article) talk that I recorded in Seattle following the 2004 election, the first part is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UOGEYMt0_I

Posted by: | Feb 27, 2008 7:54:49 PM

In terms of the June Primary, this is a tempest in a teapot. The County Clerks’ Offices generate the signature rosters. The same people who caught some of the mistakes. So while the article may have been “thoughtful” it should have been better researched.

Posted by: E. Baca | Mar 2, 2008 8:49:27 PM

The master voter list is maintained by ES&S. That's a fact and one that should cause everyone to worry. Read about the problems all over the country with that outfit and how they do business. I know Secretaries of State love ES&S and their expensive no bid contracts because ES&S sponsors their national meetings, sends them on cruises and gives them gifts. ES&S is alike a mini Halliburton.

Posted by: Knows Better | Mar 3, 2008 7:58:56 AM

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