Saturday, February 28, 2015

No Progress on Election Issues at the Roundhouse

It seems pretty safe to say that this year's legislative session will not bring about any of the needed reforms to our election system that could help bring more voters to the polls and make New Mexico more of a democracy.

SJR 1, the resolution to create independent redistricting commissions, was tabled almost immediately in Linda Lopez's Rules Committee, with little hope of its being revived. There have been no bills introduced to give the state's independent voters a say in the major party primaries, nor to make it easier for minor party or independent candidates to stand for election.

Creating Public Campaign Financing for legislative candidates has not even had a hearing on the Senate side, and has barely made it through one House committee so far. Merely fixing the existing rules in light of the US Supremes faulty decision equating money and speech has been too much for our legislators to grasp.

In fact, the newly constituted House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee does not have a single significant election related bill on its agenda through Friday, March 6 and the session closes only two weeks later, on March 21.

Folks, it is throw the bums out time. I know it is a long ways until November 2016, but we all need to be looking now at recruiting candidates who will get in there and fight for fair elections and democracy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cheaters


Rules are made to be broken, and noone knows that better than our state legislators.

February 19 was the deadline for introducing new legislation this session. So what did 30 of our esteemed senators and representatives do? They introduced fake bills, of course.

Titled "Public Peace, Health, Safety, and Welfare", these bills have no content. That is right, these are blank bills. There's no there there, as the saying goes.

I suppose these legislators are waiting for something really important to come up, so they can 'amend' the blank bills, creating something from nothing- something they forgot to address during the December 15- February 19 period when they are legally allowed to introduce bills.

It is not as though they might get bored in the next four weeks- there are already over 1300 real bills for them to consider, not to mention nearly 300 memorials and resolutions.

Nevertheless, one would not want to be caught unawares, and it can never hurt to keep an ace up one's sleeve.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Proportional Representation in the Media


The Atlantic has a thorough and interesting article on the advantages of changing Congressional elections to a proportional representation system (link below). The article talks about the problem of gerrymandering and the limited success of bipartisan redistricting commissions in the six states where those are used.

The article points out real problems with the current system, for example, that Democrats picked up more votes nationwide in 2012 House elections, yet the Republicans picked up 33 more seats!

While the author, Noah Gordon, does mention the wasted vote syndrome, he does not point out a consequence- that more people would vote if they did not feel their votes were going to be wasted.

Most countries that use Proportional Representation have much higher voter turnout because PR eliminates the wasted vote. In addition, more people feel they have a representative in the legislature because there are more representatives from minor parties.

Here in the US, fewer people are registering as members of the Dems or Reps than ever before. Polls show a majority of people want to see more parties emerge (58%, according to a recent Gallup poll). In 2014, nearly 3 million voters chose someone other than a major party nominee when they cast their ballots- that is a lot of 'wasted' votes.

If we want more voter participation and a government that more accurately reflects the will of the people, Proportional Representation is the solution.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/02/voting-for-a-new-way-to-vote/385489/

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Universal Voter Registration


On this blog, we have repeatedly mentioned universal voter registration as one reform that would increase voter participation in elections. It is an idea which does not get much consideration by policymakers here in New Mexico.

But our friends in Oregon are considering such a bill. HB 2177 was introduced at the request of Secretary of State (and soon to be governor) Kate Brown. It would allow automatic registration of all Oregonians who have a drivers license or state issued ID (through the Department of Transportation).

While this bill clearly will not cover all Oregonians, legislative analysts expect it to double the number of registered voters. This is a huge step towards making elections more accessible to citizens. If this works out, it could then expand to include all citizens, by including lists of taxpayers and others.

We applaud Secretary of State Brown for bringing this up,and will follow its progress closely.

[Thanks to Richard Winger and Ballot Access News for bringing this to our attention]

Monday, February 16, 2015

HB 346- Presidential Aspirations


HB 346 was introduced by Representative Nate Gentry, and would move New Mexico's primary elections from June to March. The goal of this bill, no doubt, is to give New Mexico more clout in the selection of Presidential candidates.

It is no secret that Governor Martinez has national ambitions, and an earlier primary could help her gain power as a kingmaker- New Mexico could see an influx of Presidential candidates if our primary is seen as influential.

Similarly, former governor Bill Richardson, when running for President, convinced the legislature and the Democratic Party to hold caucuses in February. These caucuses (which were not really caucuses, but party-run primaries) clearly gave Richardson a minor, temporary boost in his ill-fated run.

One has to wonder why Governor Martinez does not use the already existing presidential caucus system to boost her name recognition and New Mexico's influence in the national selection process. It would almost certainly be easier to convince the Republican Party to hold a caucus than to convince the legislature to move the primary for all elected offices, from President and Congress all the way down the ballot to county clerks and sheriffs.

There are a slew of issues with moving the primary forward by three months. One is addressed in the bill- namely, that party conventions would now have to be held in the holiday heavy month of December. This could keep a lot of everyday people from attending and increase the 'party hack' element that these conventions naturally attract.

Not addressed by the bill is the fact that most municipal elections are held in March. This would create confusion for voters as to which election to go vote for a candidate, as well as the need for voters to go to the polls twice in March (once for municipal elections and once for the primary).

Secondly, a March primary would be difficult for incumbent lawmakers, who are forbidden by law from soliciting donations while the legislature is in session- in even number years that is mid-January through mid-February- critical campaign time for a mid-March election.

Finally, a March primary would play havoc with newly formed and existing minor political parties, whose filing dates are by law three weeks after the primary. This issue is not addressed in the current form of the bill, either, and a federal court recently struck down new Mexico's April filing deadline as unconstitutionally early.

It is unfortunate that our leaders are more concerned about increasing their own standing than with dealing with the systemic problem of lack of participation in elections. The turnout at the 2014 party primaries was around 20%, and moving them to March is not about to address this travesty.

Real reforms that encourage quality candidates involve getting money out of politics via public campaign financing and strict limits on dark money groups, making elections competitive with independent redistricting commissions and proportional representation, and making sure every eligible citizen is registered to vote.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

SoS Dereliction of Duty


According to this AP story, http://www.scsun-news.com/silver_city-news/ci_27492938, a mere 4% of all fines imposed by Secretary of State Dianna Duran during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles were collected. Slightly over 33% were waived, and the remainder were simply overlooked.

The majority of the nearly 2000 fines are no doubt for late filing or for missing or incorrect information in the filing. But one has to wonder whether PRC candidate Ben Hall was ever fined for his blatant misuse of public funds, when he chose to pay himself to be a candidate last year, and whether that fine was collected.

It is ironic to see this report come out as the legislature is in session, and we are so focused on improving laws to make elections more fair and more transparent. But all the good laws on the book won't matter if we don't have elections officials who are willing to enforce those laws.

Not to mention, the state could use the money!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

HB 405: Same Day Registration


Introduced by Senator Jacob Candalaria and Representative Bill McCamley, HB 405 would allow eligible voters to register to vote and cast their ballots on Election Day or at an Early Voting site.

Like HB 150, this bill will help increase voter participation while falling short of the goal of universal registration. Nonetheless, this more comprehensive bill would make a positive impact on the pathetically low turnout we have been seeing in New Mexico.

According to Demos (www.demos.org), in 2012 over 1,500,000 voters in ten states registered and voted using same day registration. Same day registration would improve voter turnout, clean up inaccurate voter rolls, and reduce the need for provisional ballots

This bill has been assigned to the new HGEIC, but has not yet been scheduled. If it passes HGEIC, it also goes to House Judiciary before reaching the floor. Please call Rep James Smith and other members of HGEIC (listed in last Saturday's blog entry) and urge a "do pass".

In other developments, SJR 1 was tabled by the Senate Rules Committee. Apparently, members of the committee are reserving the right to gerrymander their districts in an undemocratic effort to keep their seats.