- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - It has been a witness to New Mexico’s political history for the last three decades, but the old light bulb board that records votes in the state House of Representatives soon could be going away.

Like other statehouses around the nation, New Mexico is looking to go digital as part of an effort to boost the efficiency of the lawmaking process and tap technology to increase transparency for the public.

The Legislative Council Service has issued a request for proposals to replace the voting system that the House has relied on since the 1980s. Much like an old high gym scoreboard, it records lawmakers’ votes and helps maintain order during debates by noting who’s in line to speak. It’s also tied to the software that keeps the chamber’s calendar.

The system is showing its age, and something needs to be done, House Majority Leader Nate Gentry said.

“There’s been a lot of frustration, particularly in the last of couple of years when people’s vote buttons aren’t working,” the Albuquerque Republican said Friday. “There were several times this last session when people’s votes weren’t being registered, and we’d have to stop and reopen the vote.”

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, said the system and the display boards are critical to House operations.

“That’s my worry, having technology that old in such an important role,” he said. “It’s about transparency. People rely on the recording system to figure out how their representatives voted. If that’s inaccurate for any reason - including a technological glitch that could happen because it’s old - that’s not the way government should work.”

Arizona, Connecticut, New Hampshire and North Carolina have updated their systems, and in some cases high-definition monitors are being used to show the votes of members. Kansas also went to a new system a few years ago as part of a $340 million renovation of the statehouse, and Rhode Island now has a system in which votes are available on the legislative website in real time.

In Oklahoma, the House has replaced its voting system for committees, and the Senate spent several hundred thousand dollars on a new vote board.

It’s not clear what New Mexico’s new system will look because vendors have another week to submit proposals. The plan calls for selecting a contractor and starting the work this summer.

The system will need to be in place and all the training done before the next regular session in January.

Legislative officials requested $4 million over the last two years to pay for repairs and upgrades at the state capitol. That included new carpeting, new high resolution display boards in the Senate, where voting is still done by roll call, and the new House voting system.

Gentry said this marks just the start. Officials are also looking at ways to give the public immediate access to amendments introduced during floor debates, and there’s talk about one day going paperless.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to increase transparency for the public with these technological advancements,” Gentry said.

Every legislature now offers live audio or video webcasts of floor sessions, and more committee sessions are going online, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Just this year, at least seven legislatures debuted new websites aimed at making it easier to find information, interact with legislators and follow the legislative process.


Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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