AVOID THE STRAIGHT PARTY OPTION WHEN VOTING IN NOVEMBER!
Effects of the Straight Party Voting Option and Sequoia Voting Machines Observed During the 2004 General Election in Santa Fe County, New Mexico
By Judith B. Alter, Ed.D.
This study of a single county in New Mexico describes the effect of the "straight-party" voting option in relation to the high "under-vote" that occurred in the 2004 presidential election in Santa Fe County. This study revealed, for one county, several of the patterns found by other researchers who have studied the election in the entire state of New Mexico. Unusual voting patterns emerged when researchers compared the presidential results to the totals of the statewide "down-ticket" candidates in the three voting opportunities: Absentee, Early Voting, and Election Day; each used different Sequoia voting systems.
After the November 2004 presidential election, the Green and Libertarian parties requested a recount in New Mexico because the state had the highest under-vote rate for president in the nation. Election officials record an under-vote when the voter does not make a choice for particular race, in this case for president. As a part of this recount, volunteers working with Black Box Voting obtained many public records documents. The study of Santa Fe County the elections material acquired from this public records request provides the basis for the observations presented here. The analysis of the "straight-party" option appears to have contributed, in a major way, to the historic "under-vote" for president. The "straight party" voting option allows a voter to mark or cast a single vote that registers for all candidates in the voter's political party.
The high under-vote rate (no vote for any candidate for an office) in Santa Fe County and the rest of New Mexico may have occurred primarily when voters chose the "straight-party" voting option on election day. Another vote reducing and possible vote-shifting scheme seems to have been present in the Sequoia scanners that counted hand-marked paper ballots cast during absentee and early voting in the straight party choices for minor third parties. Finally, a large discrepancy exists between the number of signatures on voter rosters, the total votes cast, and the presidential votes cast, especially on Election Day.
New Mexico voters had three different opportunities to vote; each was tabulated by proprietary Sequoia software: A voter could choose to vote 1) absentee (ABS), using a paper ballot tabulated by Sequoia Optech 4C-400 scanners; 2) in early (EV) at five specified locations using a paper ballot tabulated by Sequoia Optech Insight scanners; and 3) on Election Day (ED), using Sequoia Advantage push button machines (DRE-direct recording electronic devices) where machines tabulated the votes and recorded the results on internal memory tapes. In Santa Fe County on election day 86 precincts or polling sites contained a total of 214 Sequoia push button DRE machines.
In Santa Fe County, 62% of the voters registered as Democrats, 18% Republican, and 20% other or "decline to state." Of these voters, Absentee voters comprised 29% of the total Santa Fe County votes, 35% chose to participate in Early Voting, and 36% participated in Election Day voting. Of these voting choices, 0.26% of Absentee (ABS) ballots contained under-votes, 0.22% of Early Voting ballots recorded under-votes and a full 4.2% of Election Day voting recorded under-votes. This means that of the 36% of voters who voted on Election Day in Santa Fe County, 4.2% of them did not record a vote for president.