An intense 2008 election cycle looms for New Mexico, but the state may not be prepared to handle it.
***image1***SFR has learned that none of the three employees listed by the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) as voting machine supervisors in fact currently hold that position, nor are they certified to use the Election Systems & Software (ES&S) system that will be deployed statewide to tally paper ballots.
This year, for both the primary and general elections, the state will only utilize paper ballots. Those ballots will be read by the ES&S M100 optical scanner.
An organizational chart for the SOS submitted to the Ethics Subcommittee of the Legislative Council on Oct. 24 lists Daniel Gutierrez, Patricia Rael and Manny Vildasol as voting machine supervisors, a position mandated by state law and required to be filled by individuals who are "knowledgeable in the mechanical operation, repair and maintenance of voting machines used in this state."?
The election code provision adds that the state voting machine supervisor "shall provide assistance to counties"? in the repair, maintenance, care and proper use of voting machines.
A source familiar with the workings of the SOS confirms to SFR that there is no employee on staff who presently fulfills the legal requirement of voting machine supervisor.
According to a receptionist in the SOS's office, Gutierrez retired on Jan. 5.
Patricia Rael confirms for SFR that she is not a voting machine supervisor. "œI'm a special projects coordinator,"? she says.
Why would the chart submitted to the Ethics Subcommittee state otherwise?
"I don't know about that,"? Rael says. "I'm very focused on what I do."?
Vildasol did not return messages seeking comment for this story, but in his office voicemail message, Vildasol refers to himself as "office administrator"? for the SOS, not a voting machine supervisor.
Ken Fields, spokesman for the Omaha, Neb.-based ES&S, confirms that only Gutierrez attempted to gain certification at a training held last year, but he would not say whether Gutierrez passed.
Santa Fe County Bureau of Elections Chief Deputy Clerk Denise Lamb, who previously served as director of the state Bureau of Elections, describes the lack of certified voting machine supervisors as a cause for concern.
"Every county clerk in the state is aware of the fact that we're going into a difficult election,"? Lamb says, noting that there is both a presidential race as well as crowded congressional races in the '08 cycle. "I just think it's incumbent on everyone to do everything by the book."?
Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, Lamb's previous boss, confirms that the voting machine supervisors she hired during her tenure were certified.
"It was mandatory to have certification for my voting machine technicians and supervisors,"? she tells SFR. "You have a different administration now and they have different ways of doing things."?
Neither current Secretary of State Mary Herrera nor James Flores, Herrera's spokesman, returned SFR's calls and e-mails for this story.
Larry Dominguez, who was the office's voting machine supervisor from 1987 to 2004, tells SFR that certification in the voting systems used by the state during his tenure made a difference.
"I thought it was important,"? he says, because in the event that a county official or precinct judge encountered a problem with either the hardware or software, "I'd be able to walk them through and get their machine going again."?
Dominguez adds, "It's definitely a different challenge when it comes to a presidential election."?
But Dona Ana County Bureau of Elections Supervisor Lynn Ellins downplays the need for certified voting machine supervisors.
"I don't feel that the lack of certification is such to put the election in jeopardy because we're being trained by the people who know the most,"? Ellins says, citing an ES&S training session that was held for Dona Ana County election workers in 2006. He also notes that the election code does not specifically require that voting machine supervisors be certified by the vendor, only that they be knowledgeable.
Asked if she's concerned about the possibility for major problems in the coming elections, Vigil-Giron diplomatically demurs. She explains that "every new administration changes their staff and personnel and how they list them by title,"? but she emphasizes that under her watch, no corners were cut.
"I can not speak to what's happening in the current administration,"? she adds.