Computer problems disrupt statewide voter system

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By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos County Chief Deputy Clerk Sheryl Nichols said this afternoon that she has been unable to access the statewide voter system and that the error message she recieves indicates that the Secretary of State's Office failed to pay the licensing fee.

"This is one of the major ways that we can prevent voter fraud," Nichols said. "I've tried to access the system and it says we don't have licensing fees to enter and I've received e-mails from other clerks in the state who have said they can't gain access either."

The inability to access New Mexico's voter registration computer system has disrupted early voting at some locations across the state and continues to delay the preparation of voter turnout reports.

County clerks are expressing worry that they'll have trouble preparing voter sign-in rosters for Tuesday's general election if the secretary of state's office doesn't resolve the computer problems.

Officials in Dona Ana, San Juan and Santa Fe counties said early voting was delayed at some locations Tuesday evening because poll workers weren't able to access the statewide voter registration system.

The county officials blamed the secretary of state's office for the expiration of a security certificate, which is needed for a secure online connection with the voter registration system. The officials said it's the responsibility of the state to pay a third-party vendor for the security technology.

Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo said the office was trying to ease delays by developing procedures for counties to reduce the workload on the computer system. The secretary of state's office will do the same by processing reports at night during off-peak hours, he said.

However, Trujillo said the capacity of the computer system can't be expanded without money approved by the Legislature.

The early voting glitch has been resolved, but county clerks said there's another problem because the computer system is overburdened. That causes delays for counties in processing and printing daily reports of voters that have cast ballots so far. Candidates and political parties use the reports to ensure their supporters turn out and vote.

"The whole system is at a standstill. It is unbelievable," said Denise Lamb, who runs the bureau of elections in Santa Fe County.

Robert Adams, deputy county clerk in Bernalillo County, said he sent an e-mail in August reminding the secretary of state's office that the security certificate for the state's computer system would expire this month and needed to be renewed. Adams released a copy of the e-mail to The Associated Press.

Bernalillo County didn't experience early voting problems Tuesday because it relies on a different computer system to access the statewide voter registration database, Adams said.

Poll workers need to connect to the statewide computer system to verify whether a voter is registered and to determine their precinct so a correct ballot can be printed.

Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins said connections to the computer system are automatically timed out if there's no activity after several minutes. When that happened Tuesday evening at some voting sites, poll workers were unable to make new online connections. There were no disruptions at a main early voting site in Las Cruces because it was busy and the online connection continued to function, he said.

Poll workers in Santa Fe County called the clerk's office when they couldn't make an online connection and an employee there did voter registration checks so balloting could continue Tuesday evening despite some delays, Lamb said.

San Juan County Clerk Debbie Holmes said computer connections went down at its early voting locations but an office technician was able to bypass the problem in about an hour.

"I know we had some voters that left from Aztec. They couldn't wait," said Holmes.

The computer problems come at a busy time for county elections officials. Early voting ends Saturday, and then county clerks must print voter rosters for use at polling places on Tuesday.

"I can't imagine what we're going to do Saturday night at six o'clock when everybody starts trying to run their signature rosters. We're going to melt that sucker down," Lyman said of the state's computer system.

Check back for more details on this developing story.


Associated Press Political Writer Barry Massey contributed to this report.