Several counties wrap up canvasses on deadline

Staff and wire reports

ALBUQUERQUE — John Kerry has picked up more votes in New Mexico as counties finish certifying the results of the Nov. 2 election, but not enough to overcome President Bush’s lead in the state.

Kerry picked up 1,424 votes in the state’s most populous county, Bernalillo, and 579 votes in incomplete results from the second-most populous county, Dona Ana. But the president retained a lead of 6,061 votes in an Associated Press unofficial tally late Friday that included final numbers from most counties.

Results remain unofficial until the Canvassing Board — made up of the governor, the state Supreme Court chief justice and the secretary of state — certifies them Nov. 23.
That’s when candidates Clint Harden and challenger Bob Frost will know for certain who won the District 7 Senate race.

Harden, R-Clovis, holds a 36-vote lead over Frost, D-San Jon, (9,008 to 8,972) with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, according to numbers provided by The Associated Press.

Harden said he feels comfortable with the lead and hopes to serve District 7 again in the next session.

“I feel comfortable with the job the county clerks in this district do,” Harden said. “It was a really tough, good campaign. Mr. Frost is obviously a solid candidate.”

Frost said he will not make a decision on what to do until after the state certifies the votes.

“We’ll ride it out,” Frost said.

Most of New Mexico’s counties had finished their canvasses by Friday, which had been presumed to be the deadline. However, Dona Ana County received legal advice Friday from the attorney general’s office that the deadline actually is next Wednesday.

The county recessed its canvass with partial numbers and will finish Tuesday, said county spokesman Jess Williams.

Dona Ana County Attorney John Caldwell said he’d gotten advice by telephone from the attorney general’s office about the law that states county canvassing boards must finish “within 10 days of the date of the election.”

Chief Deputy Attorney General Stuart Bluestone said another state law on how time is computed states that if a period is less than 11 days, Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays are excluded.

However, Bluestone said, “everybody recognizes the need to do this as soon as possible.”

Dona Ana County elections administrator Mari Langford told county officials this year’s tally was delayed by a longer-than-normal ballot and more provisional ballots. Provisionals are a relatively new type of paper ballot authorized by a 2002 federal law.

Langford said there were 300 provisional ballots out of 2,755 cast that have yet to be counted. She doesn’t expect those ballots to make much of a difference in the county’s final results.

Staffers in the secretary of state’s office have spent the days since the election getting ready for the statewide canvass.

Many counties finished checking their results within days of the voting, although several larger counties had canvasses Friday, including Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe.

Counties report their numbers to the secretary of state’s office, which reviews the tallies to ensure there are no mistakes or omissions. Errors are corrected after consulting with the counties.

“We’ve been in high gear since the day after the election,” said Denise Lamb, director of the Elections Bureau in the secretary of state’s office.

As soon as the bureau finishes auditing each county’s figures, a firm of outside certified public accountants does another audit, she said.

The secretary of state’s office originally said no observers would be permitted to watch the office’s review, but Lamb said one representative from each political party has been allowed in.

However, she said, since the process is about as interesting as watching paint dry, they didn’t stick around.

“We had somebody who was here for one day about four hours, another day for 15 minutes, another day for a half hour,” she said.

Questions surrounding this year’s election dealt largely with provisional ballots, used by people whose names weren’t on the roster where they voted or by first-time voters who registered by mail but didn’t send the required photocopy of an identification with their name and address.

Each county had to decide which provisional votes could be counted. Many were disqualified because they lacked the proper signature or the person wasn’t registered to vote.

Thousands were rejected in larger counties. Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said 5,796 votes were disqualified out of 11,966 provisional ballots.

Two attorneys attending Friday afternoon’s Bernalillo County canvass questioned tossing out provisionals over signatures that didn’t match voter registrations exactly. But Herrera said they were disqualified “per interpretation we got in writing from the secretary of state.”

She also said the county found several instances of people trying to vote twice, such as voting at a regular precinct and trying to cast a provisional ballot as well. She said those would be turned over to law enforcement.

Fights over provisional ballots are handled by the counties, not by the Canvassing Board, Lamb said.

“We don’t have the ballots,” she said. “All the arguments over provisional ballots … all that’s determined before we get the county’s canvass.”

The state did not yet have figures showing how many provisional ballots were rejected.

However, Lamb listed figures for a few smaller counties: seven of 12 provisionals were counted in Catron County; Los Alamos counted eight of 24 provisionals; Quay counted 12 of 16; Roosevelt 22 of 37.

Bernalillo County’s canvass confirmed a win for Democrat Jason Marks in his bid to represent the Albuquerque area on the Public Regulation Commission. Marks got 87,371 votes to 80,298 votes for Republican Ward Camp in PRC District 1.