Making votes count

Poll workers Codie McDowell (left) and Pam Sury receive instructions Monday at the Curry County Courthouse. (Staff photo: Mike Linn)

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

Months of anticipation and speculation are over.

Talks of voter disenfranchisement, rights, turnouts,
conflicting polls and political spin will culminate throughout the country today with the reaffirming of George W. Bush as president or a choice for new leadership in John Kerry.

In Florida, voting officials continue to defend election reform following 2000 when terms like “hanging chad” and “butterfly ballots” became common lexicon.

In New Mexico four years ago, it was a full month before Al Gore’s victory over Bush by 366 votes was finalized. Curry County votes were subpoenaed for a recount.

And still, Curry County election officials said there are no worries today.

“I am a little bit cocky. We have had three recounts and they have never found anything wrong,” said Coni Jo Lyman, Curry County deputy clerk. “We are human and we can make a mistake. We hope we don’t but we could and we are taking every precaution.”

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. According to the clerk’s office, 36 percent of Curry County’s registered voters had already cast ballots through early or absentee voting. County Clerk Mario Trujillo said he isn’t sure whether that will indicate high or low turnout today.

He expects the most congestion in the early morning, during the lunch hour and after 5 p.m.

Weather may keep voters away. Clovis could see more than an inch of snow today with a high temperature of 39 degrees and wind gusts up to 40 mph, according to www.accuweather.com.

Curry County polls will use a Marksense ballot in which voters connect an arrow pointing to the candidate of their choice. Trujillo said the form has been used for about the last 16 years.

“We are using the ballots that are paper, which is so much piece of mind that should something go wrong we can always hand count them,” Trujillo said.

Only first-time voters who registered by mail will be required to show identification. Trujillo said a registered voter is not required to re-register each year. A voter’s information remains active eight years after the last time they voted.

Trujillo said if voters have questions there will be two Republican and two Democratic poll workers at each precinct.

New Mexico allows poll challengers selected by political parties to challenge the legitimacy of a voter. Ohio banned political party challengers Monday from polling places, saying poll workers should determine voter eligibility.

The two parties plan to disperse poll watchers around the city who function in much the same manner as challengers without the power to challenge a vote.

“Generally (poll watchers) go in and you report to those who are working the polls and you just eyeball everything,” said Rube Render, member of the Curry County Republicans central committee.

Curry County Democratic Party Co-chairperson Gary Swinford said his poll watchers — he expects there to be about seven or eight — received training Monday from Albuquerque lawyers.

“Basically they just watch the polls and make sure somebody is not trying to manipulate somebody,” Swinford said.

President Bush will vote today at a firehouse in his hometown of Crawford, Texas, before moving on to Ohio. Sen. John Kerry is scheduled for an appearance in La Crosse, Wis., before returning to Boston to await election results.