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Friday, January 06, 2006

Agreement Reached On NM Voting Machine Purchase Freeze

From Voter Action:
January 5, 2006 - New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron announced on January 3, 2006, that she will not, for now, proceed with purchase of millions of dollars worth of Sequoia AVC Edge touchscreen voting machines.  She had planned to buy the machines for 14 counties before the end of 2005.  This announcement is good news for New Mexico voters.

Vigil-Giron changed her plans after she was served with a motion for emergency injunctive relief to block the purchase.  The motion was filed in December by the plaintiffs in Patricia Rosas Lopategui, et al. v. Rebecca Vigil-Giron, et al., the year-old state court lawsuit in which eight voters seek a permanent ban on use of the Sequoia AVC Edge and other paperless electronic voting machines in New Mexico.  Prior to the Secretary of State’s announcement, her attorneys and the plaintiffs’ attorneys were in negotiations for a formal agreement to postpone any purchases pending court action. This agreement was reached today.

The Secretary of State has said the reason to buy the Sequoia AVC Edge touchscreen voting machines is to make voting easier for disabled voters, as required by the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).  In fact, the Edge machines fail to accommodate the disabled or meet HAVA requirements, as shown in a powerful and detailed expert affidavit filed by the plaintiffs.  In addition, the machines lack printers to produce voter verifiable and auditable paper ballots, as required by the New Mexico Election Code, and do not accurately record and count votes, as required by the New Mexico Constitution.  To the contrary, the Sequoia Edge voting system has a record of losing thousands of votes, switching votes, and failing to record votes cast in Spanish.

An alternative and superior voting system that satisfies all of these concerns is not only available but has been chosen by county clerks in a majority of New Mexico’s counties (19 of 33).  The Automark is a device which voters with a broad range of disabilities can use to mark and review their votes on paper optical scan ballots.  The votes on these paper ballots are then counted by optical scanners, just like the votes on the ballots filled out by non-disabled voters.  Fewer voting machines are required in each precinct, and the paper ballots can later be audited to ensure that the count was accurate. Many states across the nation are choosing the Automark as their permanent solution for equal access voting. Concurrently, counties and states are also banning the use of touchscreen voting machines such as the Sequoia Edge which do not provide a paper ballot. 

The plaintiffs applaud the Secretary of State’s decision not to buy Sequoia AVC Edge touchscreen voting machines at this time.  They also recognize, however, that it is not a permanent solution.  The Secretary of State has left open the possibility of going ahead with the Sequoia Edge purchases at a later date if permitted by the court.  The lack of finality is of concern for two reasons.  First, plaintiffs firmly believe that buying and using paperless Sequoia Edge touchscreen voting machines will be bad for New Mexico voters.  Second, the next statewide election is only six months away.  Counties need whatever new machines they acquire to be in place soon, so they can train poll workers in their use. 

The Lopategui plaintiffs and election officials all have the same goal:  elections in which all New Mexico voters, disabled and non-disabled, can vote independently and be confident that their votes are accurately recorded and counted.  The Automark, paired with optical scan paper ballots, is the best solution now available.   The plaintiffs will not accept anything less, nor should the Secretary of State, county elections officials and the voters they serve. All New Mexican voters deserve the most reliable and accurate voting system available.

To see the stipulation, TRO memorandum and related affidavits, visit www.voteraction.org. Voter Action is a project of the International Humanities Center

Editor's Note: There will be a Valentine's Dinner, Dance and Silent Auction to benefit Voter Action on Saturday, February 11th, at the Wool Warehouse in Albuquerque. For more information or to purchase tickets ($35), contact: alcanales@comcast.net or swashbur@nmia.com

January 6, 2006 at 11:49 AM in Local Politics | Permalink


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