4 Investigates: Election security in New Mexico
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Do Americans and New Mexicans still trust our election system? Generally, yes – but the number of election doubters and deniers has grown.
Just in the last week, there have been two times when national groups have met in Albuquerque to raise questions about elections past and present.
Republican Secretary of State candidate Audrey Trujillo has been among them.
“Cause we need to get me in there,” Trujillo stated. “We need to fight back and be able to have secure elections, not selections, right? We’ve far too long had selections and that’s why we’re always wondering, like, ‘Is New Mexico that crazy? Are people that stupid?'”
As criticism becomes louder and more mainstream, nonprofit election watchers, federal cybersecurity agencies, election officials and others are scrambling to show that American elections are secure.
Vivian Schiller, a veteran of Twitter and NBC News, heads the nonpartisan Aspen Institute’s effort to promote media and tech literacy. Schiller points out the seemingly countless voter fraud investigations of the 2020 election.
“Absolutely no evidence has turned up, so there was no reason to believe that the election was not secure and there’s no reason to believe the upcoming midterm election is not secure,” she said, “and yet, the mistrust is still widely pervasive.”
In New Mexico, elections officials have been pushing for involvement.
“If you have concerns about election integrity, put your money where your mouth is,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver stressed. “Serve as a poll official, help make sure the system runs with integrity.”
As calls mount and New Mexicans head to the polls, election officials are working overtime to make sure voters understand how their ballots are secured and counted.
The system starts with tabulators. In New Mexico, there are more than 1500 Dominion ballot tabulators. While the secretary of state is a Democrat, a bipartisan committee certifies the system as the right one to use and each machine has to be certified before going into service each election.
The machines are not connected to the Internet. Each tabulator has two data cards assigned to it and sealed inside. They record the votes on each paper ballot, which is considered the gold standard because it creates a paper trail.
What also creates a paper trail are the receipts printed by each tabulator, which is zeroed out to make sure no results are “pre-installed” before a count.
What about absentee vote ballots?
State law says counties with a high number of absentee votes can start verifying signatures up to two weeks before the election. It’s a process that’s open to view for partisan challengers. They can be fed into voting machines but results are a secret to everyone until election night.
“Those results are not available to anybody, including the poll workers,” New Mexico’s secretary of state said.
A secure absentee ballot dropbox is attached to the county clerk’s office. Whether they’re secure or standalone, state law requires them to be emptied once a day. It has to be by a specific person and there has to be a chain of custody.
All dropboxes also have a camera monitoring them, in accordance with state law.
In Santa Fe County, the clerk even uses GPS tracking to follow ballots collected each day from dropboxes back to county offices. Those dropboxes not only have cameras watching them but also motion sensors, heat sensors and water sensors.
On election night, poll workers save the ballots. Election judges hand-carry results cards, which are assigned to a specific tabulator. Then, they hand those cards to the county clerk, who uses a secured computer and a secured connection to send vote totals to the secretary of state.
That’s when we get results.
After every single election, there’s a random audit to make sure the ballots match the vote totals from tabulators.
A KOB 4 poll in September showed 83% of likely voters were confident their vote would be counted accurately – but election officials will keep shooting for 100%.