Saturday, December 23, 2006
Funding Sought to Cover Election
By Trip Jennings
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron wants an additional $3 million to help pay for last month's election, including a "surprise" bill for more than $700,000 from the Nebraska firm that sold New Mexico its fleet of new voting machines.
Most of the money would help pay for this year's conversion to a single, paper ballot voting system, she said.
According to her office's budget request, the unpaid expenses include:
$1.3 million to print ballots.
$560,000 for media ads.
$88,000 to print the constitutional amendments and bond issue questions.
$225,000 for supplies.
"Since the Legislature passed it (the switch to the paper ballot system) and the governor signed it, it's our responsibility to pay for it," said Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee.
Vigil-Giron also is seeking $800,000 to cover the bill for software upgrades made by Nebraska-based ES&S to the state's new special marking devices, called AutoMARKs.
Saying she was blindsided by ES&S' invoice, Vigil-Giron said the state must pay the tab because New Mexico has run out of $9 million in federal money given to the state to meet requirements in a 2002 federal elections reform law.
"It kind of suprised me that they would come in with a bill," Vigil-Giron said of ES&S' invoice.
ES&S representative Amanda Brown responded in an e-mail Friday that all the company's invoices are within "our budget agreement with the state."
Last year, New Mexico used most of the $9 million in federal money to purchase more than 1,400 AutoMARKS and M100 electronic tabulators from ES&S. The AutoMARKs are meant to help non-English-speakers and people with disabilities vote.
The federal money also paid for poll worker training, creating a centralized state voter database and voter education, which included television advertisements featuring Vigil-Giron.
County clerks and local election officials in several counties including Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Doña Ana, Sandoval and Valencia reported that the AutoMARKs were not marking both sides of a ballot or were jamming during November's general election. ES&S has started a review, Brown confirmed last week.
In Santa Fe County alone, the AutoMARK failed 24 out of the 30 times it was used, said Santa Fe elections supervisor Denise Lamb.
Workers in Bernalillo County decided on Election Day to stop using the device after running into problems, said Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera, who will take over as secretary of state in January.