I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
State voting machines secure at private facility
Automated Election Services (AES) is storing a total of 43 state-owned voting machines without charge at its Rio Rancho facility, according to secretary of state spokesman James Flores.
“AES has provided, as a courtesy, storage and distribution services to the previous as well as the current secretary of state for the office’s inventory of ballot tabulators and voter assist devices,” Flores said Monday in an email to The Independent. “AES has kept this equipment in its secure, climate controlled facilities located in Rio Rancho.”
That confirms former elections chief A.J. Salazar’s contention that no contract exists for the machines’ storage. Less clear is whether or not there is any basis for Salazar’s concerns about the security or integrity of the voting equipment, The Independent found Monday.
Salazar raised concerns about the lack of a contract for the storage of voting machines at the private facility during a March 12 interview with The Independent. Salazar said there was no designated chain of custody for the machines, creating a potential for abuse.
“My concern was for chain of custody and the security and integrity of those machines,” Salazar told The Independent.
But chain-of-custody paperwork and regular inventories are kept for those machines and shared with the secretary of state’s office—and it is unclear how their integrity could be compromised, AES President Terry A. Rainey told The Independent Monday.
Access to the machines is strictly controlled and logged, Rainey claimed.
“We have video and audio surveillance,” Rainey said. “Our (computer) system monitors all visits to the building. We give regular inventory reports to the Secretary of State. Every piece of voting equipment is, by statute, tested and certified prior to use.”
At question are M100 Ballot Tabulators, optical scan devices that automatically tally paper ballots, and AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals, Braille-equipped touch-screen voting terminals that generate paper ballots.
“The only M100s we have here are county machines here for repair or (machines that are) part of the secretary of state’s ‘pool,’” Rainey said. “The previous secretary of state administration and this administration asked us to secure them for them because we have secure facilities. The (M100) has no software in the machines at all and is required by statute to be self-contained and stand-alone, with no external connections.”
Video cameras are visible around the exterior of the AES warehouse, and an employee at the warehouse confirmed that “mag cards,” punch codes and computer logs of who has accessed the warehouse, all serve to restrict access to the voting machines.
Of the 43 state-owned machines currently stored at AES, “six or seven” are Voter Assist Terminals, Flores said Tuesday. Another 33 machines—one for each of the state’s counties—were distributed to county clerks’ offices in 2008, Rainey said.
In addition to a competitive bid award to print ballots for state and local elections, which expires later this year, AES has a no-bid maintenance contract to clean, adjust and test voting equipment for the state, Rainey said. AES is the only New Mexico company certified to service these machines, according to sole-source (no-bid) procurement applications submitted to the state General Services Department by the secretary of state’s office.
The Independent has filed public records requests for AES’s contracts, voting machine chain-of-custody and inventory records, and the state’s payments to AES.