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Elections Boss Counted on Best Cases

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A perfect-case scenario.

That’s what the Sandoval County’s Bureau of Elections director relied on when he decided on the quantity of equipment needed to handle voter turnout in Rio Rancho on Election Day.

Eddie Gutierrez admits he didn’t allow for non-routine situations when doing the voting math, like the folks who needed provisional ballots because they had applied for but lost absentee ballots, or voters who recently moved to Rio Rancho but were registered somewhere else.

“By not including that factor, it kind of threw the timeline a little off,” Gutierrez said.

Election workers and voters who waited up to five hours in line, strongly disagreed.

“The major reason for the mess … was the complete failure to have enough workers as well as equipment in working condition,” Mountain View Middle School poll worker Mary-Lou Smith wrote in a letter to the Journal.

Gutierrez said when he got calls from poll workers asking for more equipment on Election Day he thought they needed more voting booths and he provided more to the sites.

Voters and poll workers said the bottleneck was too few computer/printer systems.

The voting convenience center system used by the county for the first time this year was supposed to save money and avoid voter confusion. It combined precincts and allowed people to go to any one of the centers. But it meant poll workers had to print customized ballots for each voter.

The lines, the waiting and reports that many people gave up and left before casting ballots prompted some Republicans to claim it was an attempt at “voter suppression.” A lawyer representing two Republican candidates in tight races sued to impound and inspect Sandoval County ballots. He has also asked for a recount in Rio Rancho precincts.

Smith rejected the conspiracy theories and Gutierrez’s excuse about not allowing extra time for those who needed provisional ballots. She said only about 2 percent of the 1,472 voters who came to Mountain View had non-routine situations.

Smith said it took at least two minutes to process each voter.

Gutierrez estimated it would take less than half that time, 45 seconds to one minute per voter.

His decisions on the number of Rio Rancho voting centers and the equipment levels relied on an estimate that 8,281 voters would show up on Election Day.

He estimated that each Autovote computer/printer system could handle 552 voters on Election Day.

Based on those assumptions, he estimated 15 computer/printer systems divided between five centers would suffice in Rio Rancho.

When the county tried the setup for the primary elections in June, there were no lines or delays.

Even though 7,791 voters – fewer than the number he estimated, visited the convenience centers on Nov. 6 – the system didn’t perform as Gutierrez projected.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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