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Vote Recount Fight 'Is Not Over'

By Andy Lenderman
Journal Politics Writer
    Advocates for a recount of the presidential race in New Mexico continue to underscore discrepancies in vote totals as reasons, even though the state Supreme Court has denied their request.
    Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb of Eureka, Calif., said Thursday he might appeal the New Mexico court's decision to the federal level.
    Cobb's attorney, Lowell Finley, said advocates might still post a $1.4 million deposit that Gov. Bill Richardson and New Mexico election officials demanded for a recount, but a state lawyer says the deadline has passed.
    "We can still go back to the state Canvassing Board with $1.4 million and say, 'Let's go,' '' said Finley of Berkeley, Calif.
    However, Assistant Attorney general Dave Thomson said earlier this week he believes that's no longer an option.
    State officials had posted a deadline of Dec. 16, which came and went with no deposit from the recount proponents.
    But Finley and Cobb are still pushing the issue.
    "As far as we're concerned, this is not over," Finley said by telephone. "And we are going to continue pursuing every reasonable, available option to see that there's a meaningful audit of this election."
    Researchers working on behalf of Cobb and Libertarian Michael Badnarik point to "undervote" issues and so-called "phantom votes" as evidence of the need for a recount.
    Their reports, with arguments from supporters, were included in state Supreme Court filings before the court denied the request for an immediate recount.
    "Presidential undervotes are ballots that report no vote for president," wrote Ellen Theisen, director of VotersUnite.org, a nonpartisan group focusing on the accuracy of electronic voting technology.
    In other words, some people voted in local races but didn't vote for president.
    New Mexico's "excessive" undervote is 2.45 percent, Theisen argued. "Small numbers of undervotes are common, but undervote rates of over 2 percent are generally considered high enough to warrant investigation," she wrote.
    Theisen's report also discusses more than 2,000 "phantom votes" coming from 250 precincts.
    "Phantom votes are found when the number of votes is higher than the number of ballots cast," she wrote.
    " ... Even a single phantom vote indicates an error of some kind. Either the number of ballots or the number of total votes for the office was misreported."
    For example, Theisen listed an apparent discrepancy in Bernalillo County precinct 512. There, the county recorded 318 absentee presidential votes but reported only 166 absentee ballots, she said.
    Theisen said in an telephone interview from Port Ludlow, Wa., that she based her report on certified results provided to her by the state Bureau of Elections in New Mexico.
    Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron pointed out that the undervote was higher in the 2000 election than in the 2004 election. And so-called phantom votes are not possible, Vigil-Giron said.
    Independent auditors that looked at the state's canvass, or final report, did not find any problems like that, she said. "They didn't find any irregularities like that," Vigil-Giron said.
    Election results are checked at the county canvassing board level, the state level and later by the independent auditor, Vigil-Giron said.
    "Listen," she told a reporter. "I'm a Democrat. If I would have found some irregularities, believe you me I would have brought them out and questioned them."
    Democrat John Kerry lost New Mexico to President Bush by almost 6,000 votes.
    Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc. in Albuquerque, said that the undervote in the presidential race has been higher in the previous three elections. It was 2.9 percent in 2000, 4 percent in 1996 and 3.5 percent in 1992, he said.