Thursday, December 16, 2004


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 16, 2004

While some New Mexicans who are distrustful of last month’s presidential election results have been pursuing a statewide recount through regular government channels, a Santa Fe physical therapist and Democrat poll watcher is leading a “small grassroots group” to do a partial recount themselves.

In a Dec. 3 letter from Citizens to Verify the Vote sent to every registered voter in east-side Santa Fe Precinct 36, Amba Caldwell said, “We find it imperative in our democracy that all our votes are counted correctly and that we find ways to trust the results.”

Then she asks each voter whether or not they voted and who they voted for. A separate sheet of paper, containing the voter’s name and the names of the major party candidates (and a space for “other candidate”) is included to be mailed back to Caldwell in a pre-addressed, postage-paid envelop.

“We understand the secret of the ballot is very important to many voters in our democracy,” Caldwell’s letter said. “However, we believe that an accurate vote count is more important than privacy.”

Who are these citizens?: First of all, Citizens to Verify the Vote is not associated with Verified Voting New Mexico, a group that has raised concerns about electronic touch-screen “black box” voting machines. Nor is it part of Help America Recount, which has been trying — unsuccessfully so far — to get the state to conduct an official recount.

City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer, whose district includes Precinct 36, said some of her constituents thought something was hinky about the letter and brought it to her attention.

“They had no idea what it meant or what (the sender) meant to do with the information,” Heldmeyer said Wednesday.

Caldwell, in an interview Wednesday, said she had no sinister motives in seeking this information. “When I got my voter list (from the county clerk), I had to sign an affidavit saying I understood that I’d be subject to criminal charges if I used this list in any way not related to elections,” she said.

“There are times when we have to find out the truth and need to let go of our secrecy,” she said.

“We need your participation to be successful,” the letter said.

However, it seems that most of the voters of Precinct 36 still like the idea of a secret ballot.

Out of more than 500 voters in the precinct, only 125 responded to the letter, Caldwell said. And one of those wrote the words “Secret Ballot” in the space in where respondents were supposed to mark their choice for president.

An Albuquerque friend who sent a similar letter to voters in Precinct 350 in Albuquerque reported a similar level of response, Caldwell said.

Why Precinct 36?: Caldwell said she got the idea after serving as a poll watcher on election day for the Democrats at Acequia Madre Elementary School, where Precinct 36 votes.

“As far as I know everything there went according to the law,” she said.

Though she saw no hanky panky at her polling place, Caldwell said some people are worried that somehow a small number of votes were stolen — somehow — from each voting machine statewide. Stealing a handful of votes from each machine could be enough to tip the election without anyone noticing, or so goes the theory.

However, Santa Fe County doesn’t use the controversial “black box” voting machines that have stirred so much controversy. The machines used in Santa Fe are “first-generation” — meaning “real old” — electronic devices that tally votes on computerized cards and produce a receipt at the end of election day of all votes cast.

It’s not clear how the bad guys would be able to program all the state’s 3,367 voting machines, which aren’t linked via the Internet or via anything else.

For the record: Sen. John Kerry won big in Precinct 36, receiving 423 votes — better than 80 percent — compared with the 92 votes for President Bush and four votes for other candidates. Caldwell said the un-secret ballots she received are similar in proportion to these numbers.

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