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Bush Leading State Tally; 19,500 Paper Ballots Still Out

By Leslie Hoffman
The Associated Press
    County clerks waded through provisional ballots Thursday, working toward a final unofficial tally of New Mexico's election results.
    The Associated Press tally with most absentee votes counted late Thursday had President Bush leading by 8,366 votes.
    But there were at least 19,500 uncounted paper ballots— so-called provisional and in-lieu-of ballots— statewide, according to a survey Thursday of most of New Mexico's 33 county clerks by The Associated Press.
    Provisional ballots, required by the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act, allow people to vote even if their name isn't listed at the polling place. In-lieu-of ballots are used by voters who said they didn't get the absentee ballot they requested.
    The largest number of uncounted ballots were in the state's most populous county, Bernalillo, with about 11,200 provisional ballots and about 1,800 in-lieu of ballots.
    Doña Ana County has more than 2,700 provisional ballots to qualify.
    Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said election workers began checking provisional ballots Thursday to determine whether the person who cast the ballot was an eligible voter. Herrera said she should know how many of the provisionals are good by late Saturday. However, the ballots will not be counted until the Nov. 12 canvass, she said.
    Many other counties planned to canvass results Thursday and today.
    The state canvassing board will certify statewide results Nov. 23.
    President Bush captured New Mexico in Tuesday's election, with 50 percent of the vote to Kerry's 49 percent, according to an AP tally of unofficial results from all of New Mexico's county clerks.
    The Secretary of State's Office was still compiling unofficial results from the counties.
    At one point Thursday afternoon, the secretary of state's Web site showed Kerry holding an 1,838-vote lead over Bush in New Mexico. Those results, however, did not include updated tallies from several counties.
    For example, in heavily Republican Chaves County, the secretary of state reported 1,293 votes for Bush and 449 for Kerry. In fact, the county's unofficial ballot total was much higher: 14,748 votes for Bush and 6,716 for Kerry, according to Clerk Dave Kunko.
    Ernest Ortega, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said the state's tally was slowed by the different manner in which counties reported results to the secretary of state.
    "They're fluid results, depending on how counties report their results to us," he said.
    Later Thursday, the Web site had been updated to show Bush ahead by 6,810 votes.