County to receive new voting machines

Kevin Wilson

Roosevelt County officials said they will comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002; however, the county will not pay for the machines, nor will the current voting machines be completely phased out.
The county must be in complete compliance of the act by 2006, according to Roosevelt County Clerk Joyce Fraze said.
At previous meetings of the Roosevelt County Commission, the board members had trepidation about the act, which requires handicapped-accessible voting machines at every voting precinct.
“I think there’s a broader scope,” said Denise Lamb, New Mexico’s director of elections. “The intent of the law came out of the (problems in the 2000) Florida (presidential) election. (Handicapped access is) one aspect of it.”
Information was unclear in the months following the act’s Oct. 29 inception, and the commission was under the impression that the county would be required to pay more than $60,000 up front for the machines, not knowing when reiumbursement would come.
“Unfunded mandates, whether it’s (for) voting machines or something else … (national legislators) don’t really know what our situation is,” said Tom Clark, who represents District 3 and was one of the most vocal critics of the legislation. “They come out with these mandates that cover the entire state or entire nation, but give no consideration as to whether or not we’re doing a good job in our location or not.”
Also, commissioners felt that the voting machines were an expensive way of dealing with a problem that could be alleviated with competent poll workers.
“We didn’t have a problem with the voting machines, and the reason we didn’t was the quality of people we have,” Clark said. “The machines are only as good as the people who try to operate them.”
In order to comply with the act, Fraze said the county needs 20 new machines — one for each of the county’s 18 voting precincts, one for absentee ballots and one for backup.
Fraze said she will be in Santa Fe July 7-10, where she will view all five varieties of voting machines. From there, she will pick the machines that best fit the county’s needs and the state will order them on her behalf.
Prices vary on the machines, but Fraze estimates each machine to have a $3,200-3,300 price tag.
The state has received part of a $1.5 billion national grant to cover the expense for the machines, she said.
It is likely that the state will purchase at least one of every variety of machine, based on the needs of the counties; Lamb said she doesn’t think the variety of machines will lead to any type of confusion.
“We already have different voting machines anyway,” Lamb said. “We want the counties to have their own choices. They’re all required to report the same information.”
Fraze said she hopes that whatever machines Roosevelt County does get can first be used in the September special election. But she said it is more realistic new machines will be used in the 2004 primary elections instead.
“We were hoping to use them in a small election to try them out,” Fraze said. “We’ll have to be trained on them and be able to train our precinct officials.”
Currently, Roosevelt County uses machines with an optical scanner. Voters receive paper ballots and use a marker to draw lines and/or check boxes for their choise; the voters then place ballots into the voting machine.
After polls close, the machine prints results, which are posted at the Roosevelt County Courthouse on election nights. Fraze said the machines are very popular with the county’s voters.
Though the machines have had a few problems — Fraze said four machines had technical difficulties during the last election — it’s a problem that can be chalked up to attrition.
The voting machines the county currently uses were first purchased in 1990, and Fraze said a new machine has not been purchased since 1994. The machine that Roosevelt County uses now is no longer produced, though advanced versions remain in production.
That does make minor problems a big matter, said Fraze, because technical support is not readily available. It also means that the county was going to have to replace the voting machines in the next few years anyway.
“I like our voting system very well,” Fraze said. “I don’t feel like we’ve had trouble with (helping) handicapped voters. We’ve always made provisions and (handicapped voters) can have someone assist them.”