County clerk pushes to change polling places

December 17, 2013 • Local News

Clerk Dave Kunko still hopes to change the way Chaves County votes in 2014, desp[auth] ite being denied by commissioners two months ago.

Kunko plans to ask the board again in January to consider overhauling the voting system — ushering in what he calls “the wave of the future” with Voting Convenience Centers.

“We think voters are going to like it,” Kunko said. “We really believe this is the way to go.”

Commissioners voted down his plan in October, asking Kunko to further study the idea and meet with them over the next few months. A committee, including Commissioners Greg Nibert and Robert Corn, was formed.

Kunko has moved forward with some public meetings and has developed his idea, but hasn’t discussed any of his plans with commissioners.

“There has not been a meeting set at this point,” Kunko said Friday.

Corn said he was looking forward to discussing the plan.

“It’s interesting to me that the plan we saw at the first meeting seems quite different. Dave Kunko is aware the commission appointed a committee to discuss this further,” Corn said.

Nibert said Kunko’s first attempt to present a plan to the commission, which was only given to the board a few days prior to the meeting, did not provide the sufficient legal findings necessary for commissioners to favor approving the plan, in accordance to state elections law.

“Dave did not present the county commission with sufficient analysis to meet our statutory duty,” Nibert said. “All five commissioners recognize these voting centers, in certain applications, are desired and make some sense. But we have to do it in accordance with analysis to make the findings.”

Kunko has met with City Clerk Sharon Coll and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell President John Madden. Both have promoted the system to their council and board, and have won approval to hold elections using the new system of voting centers.

Coll recently proposed to City Councilors the same elections overhaul in a special meeting without holding a public hearing. Roswell will use the voting centers at its municipal elections March 4.

ENMU-R will use the system to ask county voters to decide on a proposed mill levy Feb. 4. The levy would pay for continued operations, maintenance and capital improvements of the campus. The election will ask voters of the district to establish a rate of $3 for each $1,000 of net taxable value of all taxable property.

The ENMU-R board approved authorizing the election at its Nov. 5 meeting.

Kunko’s plan is to open 11 voting centers across Roswell and four traditional precinct sites.

The new voting system, which combines traditional precincts into massive districts, allows voters to roam around and vote randomly at whatever location is most convenient. Proponents bill the idea as a cheaper, faster and easier way to run an election.

Some elections, though, have suffered snarling delays, hiccups and computer malfunctions.

In 2012, Rio Rancho voters experienced long lines and hours-long waits that left many voters feeling disenfranchised when it consolidated its 48 precincts into five polling centers.

In Williamson County, Texas, where nearly 30,000 votes were cast, one voting machine crashed in a small town at its last election. The entire election was held up over the six votes trapped inside the computer. An elections worker drove the machine into the county center, and the data was recovered at 2:25 a.m.

The Chaves County convenience centers would be open to any voter. These would be located at the Roswell Mall, county clerk’s office, Goddard High School, West Country Club Church, Civic Center, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Boys & Girls Club, Waymaker Church, Roswell High School, East Grand Plains Elementary and ENMU-R.

The precinct sites at Dexter School, Hagerman Town Hall, Lake Arthur Community Center and Duncan Fire Station, would be “hybrid” sites, Kunko said.

The system is heavily reliant on Internet access and electronic equipment. Except the four traditional precinct sites, which may still rely on hand-signed books.

Each convenience center would have voter sign-in pads, similar to the machines retailers use for credit purchases. Ballots would be printed, names would be registered and electronic widgets all over town should coordinate. Except possibly those sites with the traditional books.

“We haven’t completely decided how to connect to the e-poll book at this point,” Kunko said about those places.

Kunko said he hopes to increase voter turnout and decrease the time it takes for each person to vote.

Kunko said he had to figure out where to locate the polling centers based on selective data.

“No prior data existed,” Kunko said. “I have to go based on some other counties to figure out where to locate the centers. I need a place that has great Internet access — wireless or both — then you have to have a back-up.”

Nibert questioned whether Kunko’s polling locations met state elections statutes at the October meeting.

“The statutes say as a prerequisite for consolidation the authorizing resolution must find the consolidation will make voting more convenient and accessible to voters of a consolidated precinct and does not result in delays for voters in the voting process,” Nibert said to Kunko in October. “It also goes on to say that the consolidated precincts shall comprise no more than 10 precincts and what you have provided to us is that we are consolidating most of the county precincts and I am not sure that the direction you are headed is even authorized by statute.

“Are they centrally located within those consolidated precincts and what I read and what I see on a map is, no it is not,” Nibert said.

One center, at ENMU-R, appears not to be centrally located. But Olivia Robles, Bureau of Elections chief of the clerk’s office, said the county had more than enough polling places and the college met parking and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“It’s a college and there’s an air base out there. There’s companies out there that have workers that work,” Robles said.

The state only requires Chaves County to have five voting centers with the new system.

Kunko estimates the new system would only cost $50,000 for an election — saving the county $38,000 — but he said he hasn’t factored in additional costs of advertising, or $12,000 more that the state might charge.

The estimate, “may be a tad low,” Kunko said.

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