Submitted by Robert Adams – Former Deputy County Clerk for Elections, Bernalillo County & Co-Author, Public Policy and Election Audits in New Mexico
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New Mexico has long been a leader in ensuring election integrity and instilling public confidence in the election process.
Following the year 2000 presidential election (remember the CHAD), the race was on to modernize elections across the country. New Mexico made a significant investment in replacing out-of-date voting machines with direct-recording electronic voting machines (DRE). But there was a problem – more like the perception of a problem. Election integrity advocates were successful in replacing New Mexico’s newly purchased DRE voting machines with paper ballots. The reason? DREs were not verifiable – by the voter or election officials.
This was considered a step backward by many. But those of us advocating for paper ballots knew that there had to be a paper trail in order to be able to claim, with statistical certainty, that the “voting machines” were accurately tabulating and aggregating votes and vote totals.
A few years later, we developed additional tools to add to the confidence New Mexicans were developing as they went to the polls. Risk Limiting Post Election Audits were written into the state election code and procedures were developed through coordination and cooperation between County Clerks and the NM Secretary of State.
It was a straightforward proposition. A voter marks a paper ballot and then feeds that ballot through a tabulator in order to tabulate their vote. But how do we know that the tabulator counts correctly? Well, now that we have a paper ballot record, we can verify.
And, in fact, after every statewide election in New Mexico, we do. A certain percentage of paper ballots are selected by random lottery to be hand-counted by citizen election officials, balanced by the party before the election is certified. Those hand counts are compared against official results and, if a discrepancy is discovered, additional ballots will be selected and hand-counted.
New Mexico election officials, led by then-County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, were (and remain) recognized as leaders in the election integrity movement – in general, and in the area of Risk Limiting Post Election Auditing. The UNM Political Science Department and its Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy led by Dr. Lonna Atkeson also played a crucial role in the development of post-election audits and gauging voter confidence in elections.
I would encourage the members of the newly formed “NM Election Audit Force” to take a look at these audit requirements. I believe these audit methods yield much better results than showing up on a voter’s doorstep and asking who they voted for. These confrontations are intimidating and only serve to lessen the public’s confidence in elections.