THE NEW MEXICO 2006 POST ELECTION AUDIT REPORT

Author(s): 
R. Michael Alvarez
Caltech
Thad E. Hall
Journal: 
Collaboration with The University of New Mexico, Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, University of Utah
Status: 
Published

During the 2007 legislative session, the New Mexico Legislature passed a bill and Governor Richardson signed it into law, which provides for random voting system audits after every statewide general election (see  §1-14-13.1, NMSA). Specifically, the law provides that county clerks are to compare the total votes tallied in the general election for the office of president or governor from a random selection of 2% of the voting systems used during the election throughout the state to a hand count of the ballots cast on that system. A voting system is defined as a vote-tabulating machine (§1-9-1(B), NMSA). In the event the hand count varies from the total system count by more than 1.5%, the Secretary of State is required to conduct a recount of the specified office in the precincts of the legislative district in which the discrepancy occurred. The random system audit is to be completed within five days of the county canvass board certification of the county election results to the Secretary of State. (See Part II of this report for a copy of the New Mexico law).

The purpose of the law is to verify the accuracy and efficacy of the voting systems or vote tabulating machines in tabulating votes. Thus, the audit is meant as a performance audit of the voting machines. The New Mexico law is similar to laws that have been passed or are being considered in legislative committees across the country that require manual counts of paper ballots and voter-verifiable paper records in randomly selected units (e.g. precincts or voting systems) and comparing them to the corresponding electronic or manual tallies, for the purpose of verifying the election result with a high level of confidence.1 The broader purpose of these
measures is to strengthen voter confidence in the administration process and its outcomes.  In the spring of 2008, we had the opportunity to develop and test audit procedures in Bernalillo County, New Mexico for the purpose of recommending specific recommendations and guidelines to the New Mexico Secretary of State in preparation for the 2008 post election audit and more broadly to consider and test methods that would be effective for other states and localities as they grapple with this issue. At the same time, our study is also meant to inform the public debate on the accuracy and integrity of the new optical scan voting systems deployed for the first time in the 2006 election.

Therefore, we simulated the 2006 election using a random sample of 25% of the ballots cast (47,481 ballots) and recounted those ballots by 2-person and 3-person hand counts and by a second machine count. Bernalillo County, along with all other counties in New Mexico, uses an optical scan paper ballot system to administer their elections. Bernalillo tabulates its ballots using the ES&S M100 optical scan precinct ballot counter for Election Day and early ballot processing and the ES&S M650 for absentee ballot processing. Early voting machines and the M650 are programmed with 431 ballot styles and 78 unique ballot combinations, while Election
Day voting machines usually are programmed with only 1 ballot style. Our election audit focused on the race for governor and land commissioner. 1 H.R. 811 (op cite) also has provisions in it for post-election audits in federal elections.

This study allowed us to evaluate, assess and experiment with procedures to provide recommendations on post election performance audits. During our study we experimented with counting procedures, developed sampling procedures, chain of custody procedures and carefully examined all of the parameters necessary for a successful and complete post election audit. This included: ballot reconciliation, pre-election preparation for the post election audit, the importance of transparency to the voting process, sampling methods, example forms, audit team selection standards, reporting of audit outcomes, voter intent standards and various hand
counting procedures. These recommendations, along with explanations and justifications, are presented in Part I.

Part II of our report provides a detailed description of our study, research design, and process. We provide background information on the New Mexico election administration context, the election audit law and the location and set-up for our study. We also describe the documents that we relied on to account for our work (e.g. tally sheets, audit logs, forms) chain of custody rules, sampling methods, the data we collected and the machine and hand-counting procedures.  Part III of our report examines the machine and hand count data that were generated over the course of our study and allows us to answer a number of questions about the reliability and precision of machine and hand counts across different counting modes. We compare the machine count to the actual number of ballots processed, machine to hand counts, hand counts to hand
counts and machine to machine counts to assess the reliability and validity of the various counting methods. We also examine how long machines and humans took to count ballots, providing information on how long audits can take.

Each part of our study is prefaced with an executive summary that briefly discusses the major findings. We also provide an extensive appendix that documents all aspects of our research design, provides examples for suggested forms, and provides detailed information on the data we collected.

We hope that our research is a useful tool as election administrators across New Mexico and the country prepare for the upcoming elections in 2008 and beyond. Our detailed examination of the audit process is meant to provide practitioners and stakeholders with valuable information in preparation for their own election audits.

We wish to make clear that this work was a partnership between the non-profit sector, government, and academia and the strength of these relationships was key to a successful study design. As scholars we learned much about the election administration process over the course of our work and have a deeper understanding of the complexities of election administration. We hope our experiences, detailed throughout this report, provide useful information to practitioners. This study’s primary financial sponsors were the Pew Charitable Trusts, Center for the States, and JEHT Foundation’s “Make Voting Work” Initiative. Without their support this project would not have been completed. In addition, it is important to recognize that our partnership with local and state government both financially and administratively was also critical to our success.

Bernalillo County Clerk, Maggie Toulouse Oliver and her Deputy Clerk Robert Adams, provided valuable financial resources to support the election audit at the Voter Warehouse, provided us with the training and background to operate machines and gave us the freedom, in a potentially politically sensitive situation, to perform our task independently and experiment with a variety of methods. Her staff was incredibly supportive before, during and after the audit and made our jobs both productive and fun. The Secretary of State Mary Herrera also provided key financial and administrative support and observed our process throughout. Her staff provided key input on the New Mexico law and on the process of elections in the State of New Mexico and was a needed asset and ally throughout our work. The partnership has provided important insights for
all parties in creating a stronger, more efficient and confident election system. In addition to these individuals, the University of New Mexico, the University of Utah and the California Institute of Technology also provided key financial and administrative support. A detailed listing of all of the individuals involved in making this project a success are listed in the acknowledgement section at the end of this document.

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