Rise of the (voting) machines

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ Staff Writer

New state-funded voting machines will debut today with the start of early voting for the Nov. 7 General Election.

Although voters will still be using a paper ballot, the marking method has changed. Residents will fill in an oval on the new ballot instead of continuing an arrow, according to Curry County Election Administrator Coni Jo Lyman.

“Voters should touch their pen to the center of the oval and proceed outward for marking,” Lyman said, “because testing has shown we get a higher read accuracy when this process is used.”

Once the marking is complete, residents will feed their completed ballot into the new M-100 tabulating machine. The tabulator has built-in readers to recognize and reject ballots and immediately notify the voter of improperly filled out ballots. As an example, if the ballot asks for the voter to select one candidate and two are selected then the machine automatically rejects that ballot. Lyman said it takes three to four seconds for the machine to read the ballot.

“Voters should be patient,” she said.

The M-100 tabulating machine also has an internal diverter to separate ballots with write-in candidates.

Lyman said the new vote tabulating machines are part of Gov. Bill Richardson’s election reform package. The paper ballots are also being funded through the state, which is saving the county $38,000, Lyman said.

Voting machines for disabled individuals are also available, Lyman said. They feature headphones which deliver instructions, a privacy feature for the blind, Braille-encoded buttons and a touch screen.

The Secretary of State’s office is supplying this equipment to all 33 New Mexico counties as required by the federal Help America Vote Act.

Voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Curry County Courthouse.

Early voting will open Oct. 21 at North Plains Mall.

Hours will be noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.