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          Front Page  news  state

Undervote Numbers Drop This Election

By Dan Boyd
Journal Capitol Bureau
          SANTA FE — More than 3,000 New Mexicans who voted in this month's general election either didn't vote in the presidential contest or didn't have their vote counted.
        However, the 3,207 so-called undervotes — or ballots with no reported vote for president — are a small number in comparison to the 21,084 undervotes in the 2004 general election — a figure that sparked questions about the accuracy of vote-counting machines and was a catalyst in the push for a paper ballot system.
        "The level of performance seems to be much higher this year than it was in the past," said Gerald Gonzalez, the director of the Bureau of Elections for the New Mexico Secretary of State.
        Undervotes can happen when a voter skips a certain race, when their intent can't be discerned or when vote-tallying machines fail to count the vote.
        In this fall's election, Gonzalez said he thinks most undervotes fell under the first category.
        "It appears that some people just didn't vote in the presidential race," said Gonzalez, who added a small number of voters appear to have voted solely in bond elections and amendments.
        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 2004 election — in which President George Bush carried New Mexico by a margin of less than 6,000 votes — was the last in which electronic voting machines were used. Gov. Bill Richardson won approval for a statewide paper ballot system starting in 2006.
        A total of 833,365 New Mexicans voted in this year's general election, or about 70 percent of registered voters.
        Undervoting was higher in other statewide races than it was in the presidential contest. In the U.S. Senate race between Tom Udall and Steve Pearce, for instance, the number of undervotes was 9,715.