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Finally, a Bernalillo County Vote Tally

By Dan McKay and David Miles
Journal Staff Writers
    Bernalillo County commissioners agreed to certify election results Friday, 10 days after Election Day, despite concerns that hundreds of ballots were thrown out on a technicality.
    According to the final tally, John Kerry widened his lead in Bernalillo County by about 1,400 votes. The county's tally now shows Kerry with 132,404 votes to President Bush's 121,610.
    But the president retains a statewide lead of 6,120 votes in an Associated Press unofficial tally late Friday that did not include final numbers from a few other counties.
    Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson, said the governor wants to look at overhauling the state's election system and is open to the idea of requiring more voters to show identification at polling places. Now, the only people who must show ID are those who registered to vote by mail and are voting for the first time.
    "The governor wants uniform statewide standards to prevent so many ballots from being disqualified in the future because of technicalities," Gallegos said. "Republicans and Democrats deserve confidence in the system."
    A Democratic attorney and an election volunteer for the party said workers disqualified hundreds of provisional ballots cast in Bernalillo County because of names that had a missing middle initial or some other minor discrepancy. They urged commissioners to reconsider the rejection of those ballots, if they could.
    The commissioners, however, said they didn't have authority to question the qualification of provisional ballots. They voted 3-0 in favor of certifying the Nov. 2 election results, which were sent to the Secretary of State's Office.
    The Bernalillo County certification marked the end of two long weeks for election workers, some of whom hadn't slept in 24 hours by Friday afternoon. They worked throughout the night Thursday and Friday morning to finish the canvass, or audit, of election results.
    Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera thanked her staff, who faced an unprecedented challenge in reviewing 12,000 provisional and in-lieu-of paper ballots.
    The provisional ballots were instituted under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. They were issued to voters who showed up at the wrong polling place or whose legitimacy was otherwise in doubt.
    Roughly half of those ballots were disqualified in the canvassing process. The most common reason was that the person wasn't registered to vote anywhere in the county.
    But Democratic attorney Jim Noel said his party's observers had seen at least 330 provisional ballots rejected due to minor discrepancies. Those were cases where voters had to show identification but the ID didn't exactly match the name on the voter registration.
    The ballots were tossed even if it was only a middle initial that was missing, he said.
    Herrera also told the Journal on Thursday that ballots were rejected if the person's name on the registration rolls didn't match the name they signed when voting.
    Herrera and a county attorney said Friday that they were following instructions from the state. "It doesn't mean I agree with it," Herrera said.
    But Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron said Friday she did not instruct clerks to toss provisional ballots if the signatures did not exactly match the person's name on voter rolls.
    She said voters' addresses and first and last names must match, but officials should not have invalidated ballots if middle initials or titles such as "Jr." or "Sr." did not match.
    "Common sense has got to be applied here," Vigil-Giron said.
    She said her office probably will return election results to counties if officials rejected ballots because signatures did not perfectly match voters' names on registration rolls.
    Bernalillo County commissioners Alan Armijo, Tim Cummins and Michael Brasher voted in favor of certification. Tom Rutherford and Steve Gallegos were absent.
    About 72 percent of Bernalillo County's 356,638 registered voters cast ballots in the election, Herrera said.
    She also said her staff noted some irregularities in the balloting. About two dozen people tried to vote twice, Herrera said. Those cases will be turned over to authorities.
    Results remain unofficial until the State Canvassing Board— made up of the governor, the chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court and the secretary of state— certifies them on Nov. 23.
    Most of New Mexico's counties had finished their canvasses by Friday.
    But in Doña Ana County, the election canvass continues.
    Dogged by new court-ordered procedures and burdened by an unprecedented number of provisional ballots, Elections Supervisor Mari Langford told county commissioners that workers expect to finish over the weekend.
    Vigil-Giron said that does not pose a problem.
    Doña Ana County commissioners scheduled a meeting to certify results at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
    Journal staff writer Rene Romo contributed to this report.