By Susan Montoya
The Associated Press
SANTA FE — Lawmakers approved a flurry of bills in the final hours of the session that ended Thursday, including a measure that would impact voters across the state by requiring all counties to use paper ballot systems.
Voters would fill in spaces on the ballots for the candidates they wanted, then feed ballots into a tabulation machine. Gov. Bill Richardson advocated the system, saying it would help rebuild public confidence in elections.
House Voters and Elections Chairman Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, said the nation was built on the public’s right to vote and have those votes count.
The bill “will make people feel more comfortable that their vote does count and it won’t be lost or go someplace else,” he said.
Supporters contend paper systems are more reliable, provide better information for post-election auditing and may be easier for some voters to use.
The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections fueled a national debate over electronic voting machines and whether they are subject to tampering that could alter votes.
But critics said paper systems have their own problems.
House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque, called the legislation a “terrific error.”
“It’s a step backward in this state,” he said. “Paper ballots are expensive and they’re more susceptible to fraud.”
In addition to causing delays, Sen. Dianna Duran, R-Tularosa, said the requirement for paper ballots would leave the state “captive to a single voting system provider” and eliminate meaningful competition among vendors.
The switch from the current mix of systems in New Mexico’s 33 counties would have to be made as soon as enough money is made available to the counties.
Along with paper ballot legislation, lawmakers passed a capital improvement package that provides $11 million to buy needed tabulation equipment and help counties switch to the paper system.