Sunday, November 30, 2008
Paper Ballot Benefit: Undervote Rate Drops in 2008 Prez Election in New Mexico
One of the most vexing problems with New Mexico's 2004 election was the high percentage of "undervotes." Undervotes occur when someone casting a ballot either doesn't select a candidate in a race or his or her choice doesn't register in the count for some reason -- including voter mistakes and machine error (or hacks).
An article in today's Albuquerque Journal reports that there were 3,207 undervotes in the presidential election this year in New Mexico, down considerably from 21,084 identified in the 2004 presidential election here. In 2004, many New Mexico polling places were using the highly problematical touch screen voting machines. This year, the entire state voted on paper ballots that were tallied by electronic scanners, the same as in 2006.
According to the Journal article,
Voter watchdog groups say undervote rates of more than 2 percent — or one out of every 50 voters — raise suspicion and should be investigated.
In 2004, New Mexico's presidential undervote rate ended up at 2.5 percent, the highest such rate in the nation. In this year's election, the figure came in at less than 0.4 percent.
The lower presidential undervote total this year definitely seems to indicate significant progress is being made in ensuring all votes are accurately counted, but more reforms are needed as we go forward. For instance, the New Mexico Legislature is expected to take up a proposed expansion of and improvements to the election audit process that checks a sample of electronic scanner totals against hand counts to test the accuracy of the machines.
Other procedural changes may be needed to address potential chain of custody issues and other gaps in the election system related to accountability, transparency and consistency. See, for example, the 2008 Auditor's Findings on the New Mexico Canvass, especially points b, c and d under item 3.
A dramatic drop in undervotes and so-called "phantom votes" was also seen in the 2006 mid-term election in New Mexico -- particularly in areas with heavy Native American and Hispanic voter registration. This was the first statewide election in New Mexico after passage of legislation that required paper ballot voting in all counties.