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Provisional Ballot Count to Begin

By Trip Jennings
Journal Capitol Bureau
    Elections officials laid down the rules Sunday to representatives of both political parties on how they will determine whether to count provisional ballots cast in Bernalillo County on Election Day.
    The procedures, articulated during a closed-door, 11/2-hour-meeting attended by Democratic and Republican attorneys and others, will matter in coming days as elections officials determine how many of the 2,698 provisional ballots will count in the still-unsettled 1st Congressional District race.
    Because no new votes were tallied Sunday, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., kept her 1,487-vote lead against Democratic Attorney General Patricia Madrid.
    Democrats continue to say they expect Madrid to close that margin in the provisional ballot count.
    Republicans say there's no way she could overtake Wilson. They expect more than a few provisionals to be disqualified.
    The two parties Sunday agreed on some basic ground rules for the qualifying process for provisional ballots, which is expected to start around 9 a.m. today.
    Provisional ballots were placed in an envelope with the voter's identifying information. The battle between the two parties will center on whether that information is enough to correctly identify the voter.
    Bernalillo County Clerk's staff will use a computer to try to verify that each person who used a provisional ballot is eligible to vote in Bernalillo County.
    The first check will be the statewide voter registration database. If the person is not found there, the county worker may look at a list that shows people who are no longer registered to vote in New Mexico, either because they moved and are eligible to vote elsewhere or they removed themselves from the rolls, said Jaime Diaz, county elections administrator.
    The worker will also compare the person's information against data that will show whether the person is a convicted felon and has completed all the necessary steps to regain his or her right to vote in New Mexico, Diaz said.
    Another place the worker may check is a list of recently deceased people.
    After the worker checks the individual's information, he or she will call out identifying information on the ballot envelope. Representatives of each political party seated across the table will listen to the information, which will include the individual's name, their party, their address and the year they were born, Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said.
    Depending on how legible or complete the information is, the party representatives may then try to challenge the ballot.
    It could be that the person's signature is smudged or there is only a partial address, said Paul Kienzle, an attorney representing the Republican Party.
    "In close cases, we will put them in a pile and fight over them later. We don't want to slow down the process," Kienzle said.
    John Wertheim, state Democratic Party chairman, said he didn't expect many provisional ballots to be thrown out.
    "I thought there was a lot of agreement between the parties," he said. "We'll see how cordial it remains if they try to challenge a bunch of them. But it will be very difficult. From our standpoint, the current law is very clear."
    State law says a provisional ballot "shall be qualified as long as the voter provides a valid signature and sufficient information for the clerk to determine the voter is a qualified elector."
    Identifying information can include an address, "both present and former if applicable," a date of birth or a Social Security number.
The count in the 1st

    WILSON 104,863
    MADRID 103,376
    These were the totals as of Sunday night. The outstanding ballots are from Bernalillo County. Some outstanding ballots may be rejected.

E-MAIL writer Trip Jennings