No Small Stuff (cont.): Unsigned Mail Ballots in Albuquerque


[Image courtesy of ohiogreenbuildinglaw]

Thanks to a recent Election Data Dispatch by my friends at Pew, I discovered the latest entry in the annals of “there is no such thing as small stuff”:

The city of Albuquerque is holding a special election to amend the city charter that will be conducted entirely by mail, and the early returns show some problems with the process.

The city began sending out ballots on February 12. As of February 28, 35,000 ballots had been returned. Of these, 3,670–or more than 10 percent–were missing a signature on the return envelope. Ballots missing this signature cannot be counted.

It isn’t clear why voters aren’t signing the ballots; it may just be an oversight (given that vote by mail could be new to some voters) or voters may be hesitant to put a signature on the outside of an envelope for fear of identity theft.

Whatever the reason, voters who send in their ballots unsigned won’t have them counted – and contrary to earlier indications, they wont be allowed to come in and rectify the problem. As the ABQJournal reports:

City Clerk Amy Bailey says she cannot count any ballots from voters who failed or refused to sign the oath on their election envelope before returning it to the city.

The clerk had initially advised people to come in and sign the envelopes after the fact, if they’d returned the ballot without a signature. Twenty-nine people did come in to sign their envelope after initially having failed to do so. Their ballots won’t be counted.

“The review of the body of law that I did was, unfortunately, incomplete,” Bailey said Tuesday in an interview. “I am sincerely sorry that that portion of the ordinance was missed.”

As of Monday, the clerk had received nearly 4,500 ballots lacking signatures, or 8 percent of the total. About 51,000 signed ballots have been returned …

New Mexico’s county clerks have apparently allowed people to come in and sign their ballots, even if the ballots are mailed or returned without a signature initially, Bailey said, but an Albuquerque city ordinance doesn’t allow it.

The ordinance not only prohibits the clerk from counting unsigned ballots but also says “the municipal clerk shall not attempt to locate voters who returned unsigned ballots, nor make arrangements for voters to sign unsigned ballots after they have been returned to the city.”

The race in question – which would raise the threshold for a runoff – is itself hotly contested and fiercely partisan with potentially significant consequences. I wouldn’t be surprised if the losing side in a close race doesn’t make an issue of those unsigned ballots in court.

If that’s the case, the City may end up spending all of the cost savings from switching to an all vote-by-mail election – and then some – on litigation to defend the results.

No small things, indeed.

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