Senate approves paper ballot voting systems in close vote

By Deborah Baker

SANTA FE — A requirement that every New Mexico county use paper ballot voting systems passed the Senate on a party-line vote Monday.

With less than three days left in the legislative session, the bill headed to the House.

Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson is pushing for the change, saying paper ballots would restore public confidence in the electoral process. The bill was approved 23-18, with Democrats backing it and Republicans opposed.

The GOP contended the move to paper ballots is wasteful, expensive, and geared to securing business for one vendor.
“I don’t know why we’re doing this. … Things don’t look right,” said Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell.

Under a law passed last year, New Mexico must have in place by next year a voting system that provides a “voter verifiable and auditable paper trail.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said it would cost at least $34 million to retrofit existing electronic machines to provide that paper trail.

She estimated that switching to paper ballots statewide would cost about $11 million, with the money available from the state’s capital projects funding.

Republican lawmakers insisted the bill’s supporters were understating the cost, and that the switch to paper could prove just as expensive as keeping the patchwork of systems currently in place.

Some counties would have to jettison voting systems that are less than a year old. Others could be forced to cover some of the costs, critics said. Opponents also disputed the notion that paper ballots would instill more public confidence in elections.

“They scare the heck out of voters,” said Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque.

Under a paper ballot system, voters would mark their ballots then feed them into a tabulation machine. Twelve of the state’s 33 counties use paper ballots exclusively.

Opponents have objected that the measure appeared to steer business to one company, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software.