An attempt by Green and Libertarian party candidates to force a recount of the New Mexico presidential vote appeared to be in doubt Wednesday.
A leader of the recount movement acknowledged that it was "unlikely" the group could raise the $1.1 million that the state canvassing board decided was necessary up front to order a recount of the state's presidential ballots.
The board, headed by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, set a 10 a.m. MST Thursday deadline for the Green and Libertarian candidates to come up with the money.
"They doubled the stakes and basically gave us 36 hours to do it," said Rick Lass, state coordinator for the Green recount campaign. "That's a lot of money."
The Green and Libertarian candidates had raised $114,000 for the recount, which they said was all that was required by the state election code.
The state won an important legal round early Wednesday. State Judge Carol Vigil upheld the state board's decision after a brief hearing, although there was the possibility of a last-minute appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Lass said the recount petitioners' lawyers were exploring other legal options along with the fund-raising people. He admitted, however, that it would be difficult to the raise $1.1 million by the Thursday morning deadline.
Richardson, an active campaigner for Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the presidential race, opposed the recount although President George W. Bush won the state by nearly 6,000 votes. He said a statewide recount would not change the outcome.
Four years ago, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore defeated Bush in New Mexico by 600 votes. As a result, the state was one of the battleground states in the 2004 Bush-Kerry race and the focus of national media attention and frequent candidate visits.
Richardson's stand reflects the sentiment of most people in the state, though, according to Gilbert St. Clair, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico and a veteran observer of New Mexico politics.
"I think citizens accept the result and it's over," he said.
On Monday, the state's five Republican electors voted for Bush, as electors did all around the nation. The vote won't be official until Jan. 6 when the U.S. Senate counts electoral votes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
New Mexico has a history of election problems, but it was no worse than usual last Nov. 2, with the exception of the new provisional ballots, St. Clair said. They were new to New Mexico and many other states in this year's election.
Provisional ballots were one of the major concerns of Green Party candidate for president David Cobb and Libertarian candidate for president Michael Badnarik. Provisional ballots were required for the first time this year under the federal Help America Vote Act passed in the wake of the 2000 Florida debacle.
Voters were permitted to cast provisional ballots even though there were questions about their registration or qualifications. The ballots were then examined within 10 days by election officials and officially counted or thrown out.
Lass said about 5,000 provisional ballots were thrown out in New Mexico, but critics had other questions about the conduct of the election. One was the lack of paper printouts on electronic machines to provide verification.
About 800 complaints were filed over the New Mexico election procedures, Lass said. They ranged from complaints about machines to provisional ballots and long lines at the polling places.
New Mexico's election glitches date back at least 20 years, especially in Bernalillo County where Albuquerque, the state's largest city is located. Four years ago, 43,000 straight party votes were lost, but they were later recovered.
Richardson, who is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, spoke out against the recount movement, but he called the special meeting of the canvassing board Tuesday to give the petitioners a hearing. The board is composed of Richardson, Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Petra Maes. All three are Democrats.
The board voted to authorize a recount only if the Green and Libertarian candidates could come up with the $1.1 million to cover the costs of the statewide recount. Cash or a surety bond is required by 10 a.m. Thursday.
"It is my firm belief that we should be looking forward, not back," Richardson said in calling the meeting, repeating his recent call for election reform.
Richardson has asked the Legislature, which meets early next year, to pass reforms that will bring uniformity to the state election code, require a paper trail for all machine ballots, and require proper training for all election personnel in the state.
"The key to protecting New Mexico voters is election law reform, not recounts and lawsuits," he said.
(Please send comments to [email protected].)