Sunday, November 29, 2015

Yes, your vote matters; and it counts. too

Lessons from Las Cruces

The November Municipal Election results have to make even the most cynical people question their pessimism. Not only were two of the council races extremely close, but a recount of the contests proved that our election system works.

Your Vote Matters

Two of the city's council districts were decided by less than 1% of the votes. Kasandra Gandara won by 18 votes in district 1, while Jack Eakman won his election by a mere 11 votes in district 4.

Overall, about 19% of the registered voters came to cast ballots. Meaning, 81% of Las Crucens did not bother voting.

So, if you think your vote doesn't matter, think again- you and ten friends could have changed (or confirmed) the outcome.

Your Vote Counts

Because of the closeness of the margin, the two losing candidates decided to ask for a recount. They paid the costs to make sure the results were correct, because, you never know, the machines could have malfunctioned or worse.

But it turns out the vote tallies remained unchanged.

Nearly the same thing happened when last year's Commissioner of Public Lands election had a so called "automatic" recount because the margin of victory was within 1/2%, and the change in vote counts was negligible.

So, if you think elections are rigged, think again, because with New Mexico's paper ballot system, all elections are subject to the scrutiny of audits and recounts.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Top Two Primary Elections

Voting Matters has great respect for Bob Perls from his time in the legislature and for his dedication to improving the function of our government and our elections. And I greatly appreciate his efforts to increase voter participation in New Mexico. That said, I highly doubt his suggestion of an open primary top two system will lead to the desired results.

See the commentary at NMPolitics here:

We contend that the main reason for low voter participation is low candidate participation. Two candidates, no matter how different, cannot begin to represent the diversity of New Mexicans.

While the top two system allows for more participation by opening up the primary to more voters, it doesn't actually encourage more participation since at the general election there are still only two candidates on the ballot. Now if Mr. Perls were talking about a top four primary, that would be different.

Let's look more closely at Nebraska's 2014 legislative elections. While 47% turnout is admittedly better than New Mexico's 40%, it still shows that more than half of all Nebraskans did not vote in the general election. And, frankly, their open primary only attracted 27% of their potential voters- hardly something to shout about.

Why? Because of a lack of candidates. 14 of Nebraska's 25 legislative districts had only one or two candidates- all guaranteed to "win" the top two primary and go on to November. And in 21 of 25 districts, the same person who got the most votes in May won the general. If these statistics don't scream "why bother?" to voters, I don't know what does.

While it is hard to argue with the fact that since the primary election is paid for by the state, all citizens should be able to cast ballots, there are other reforms that would do a better job at increasing turnout.

First, get rid of the gerrymandered single seat districts that guarantee "safe seats" for one party or the other, and create an independent redistricting commission.

Second, reduce the number of signatures needed for minor party and independent candidates to get on the ballot. New Mexico's 3% requirement for independent candidates is among the highest in the nation, and prevented even an incumbent member of the Public Education Commission from running for reelection in 2014.

Finally, create a system of universal voter registration, so that voters are not disenfranchised because they weren't aware the registration deadlines and requirements.

Mr. Perls goals are laudable, but the fact remains that having only two candidates on the general election ballot will not increase voter participation.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why Las Cruces Needs Ranked Choice Voting

This post also appeared at

City Council candidate Steve Calderazzo's desire to be removed from the November 3 ballot highlights a big problem with our elections. Calderazzo's stated reason for wanting to withdraw is his fear of splitting the conservative vote and seeing his ideological opposite win the seat.

This is always a problem in elections with more than two candidates, since any candidate can win an election with fewer than 50% of the votes. But democracy is established on the idea that "majority rules".

Las Cruces election law somewhat deals with this problem by requiring a runoff election if the leading vote getter does not receive at least 40% of the votes- but, 40% is not a majority, so that doesn't really solve the problem. Plus, a runoff election costs money, for both the candidates and the city. Not to mention, voters are more than ready for the election to be over and don't want to endure another 6 weeks of campaigning, which is why runoff elections almost always have lower turnout than the regular election.

Even more troubling is the current trend, made explicit by Calderazzo's withdrawal, that we are better off with fewer candidates. Voting Matters contends that the plummeting of voter turnout is due in large part to the lack of candidates. New Mexico's 2014 general election had the lowest turnout in 50 years, with only 40% of registered voters bothering to cast ballots. Albuquerque's recent municipal election had its lowest turnout ever, at 8% of registered voters. The Las Cruces municipal election in 2013 also saw only 8% of registered voters turn out.

Having fewer choices on the ballot will not bring more voters to the polls. A better solution can be found with Ranked Choice Voting, sometimes referred to as Instant Runoff Voting. Ranked Choice solves two problems: it accommodates multiple candidates and assures majority winners, without the cost of conducting a second election. And it is simple- a voter merely ranks their candidates in order of preference, 1,2,3. If no candidate gets to 50% on Election Day, the losing candidates ballots are retallied, counting the voters second choice. By process of elimination, a winner can be declared who has 50% support.

Instead of withdrawing and doing a disservice to his supporters, Steve Calderazzo could simply be asking voters who choose him to name his preferred candidate as their second choice. Who knows, he might even win the election that way. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dianna Duran Resigns

Faced with charges of violating campaign finance law and embezzlement, Secretary of State Dianna Duran resigned her position yesterday. Today, she followed up by pleading guilty to six counts as part of a plea deal that lets her escape jail time and keep her pension.

Duran's tenure was marked by her attacks on voting rights, like claiming 64,000 voters were not legally registered, and illegally removing the Green Party from the ballot after the 2012 election cycle.

But she will be remembered for her own abuse of campaign fundraising and spending. She apparently took money intended for her reelection campaign and used it for personal expenses, and in her first campaign, she falsely named as her campaign treasurer a person who did not serve in that capacity.

The Republicans had a golden opportunity in Duran to show how the office could be run ethically and efficiently. Duran's two Democratic predecessors both ran into trouble with finances, misusing federal money that could have been well spent to help increase voter awareness and participation.

Which begs the question, why do we allow partisanship in the office that oversees elections? Not only the Secretary of State, but all of New Mexico's county clerks, are extremely motivated by election outcomes, especially their own.

It is time for our state legislature to look not only at the merits of an independent ethics commission, but also at a way to take partisanship out of election oversight.

New Mexicans deserve nothing less.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Running Clean in Albuquerque

With elections underway in Albuquerque, Voting Matters wants to thank the candidates who are using the public campaign financing system to run their campaigns. This year, only 3 of the 7 candidates for council opted in to this system that takes private money out of elections.

Those three candidates are Isaac Benton (district 2), Israel Chavez (district 4), and Pat Davis (district 6).

We have long advocated for public financing because winning candidates end up beholden not to any special interest groups, corporations, or wealthy individuals, but rather to the public at large- and that is how it should be. Public financing has been under attack from people who want to be able to buy elections. But Albuquerque has persevered by amending its system to conform with unreasonable court decisions, and we are proud of the city, Issac, Israel, and Pat for demonstrating their faith in fair elections.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Legislature adjourns without passing any election related bills

As expected, last Saturday when the legislature adjourned, they did so without sending any electoral reforms to the governor.

Frankly, there was little hope that anything good would come of the session from the get-go.

A couple of good bills were introduced, like Carl Trujillo's Resolution to create an independent redistricting commission, and Peter Wirth's attempt to expand the public campaign financing system to include legislative candidates. but neither of these even made it out of its first committee.

Bills to allow election day voter registration and permitting parties to invite independents to vote in primaries also both failed. Only a bill cleaning up voter registration procedures made it through.

Noticeably absent this year were bills clarifying new minor party and candidate filing deadlines (currently a new party and all of its candidates must file on the same day). Nor did the legislature address municipalities who want to use Ranked Choice Voting but cannot get compatible voting machines and software.

And we are probably waiting in vain for the state legislature to look into moving to a truly representative democracy by switching to proportional representation, or to enfranchise every citizen through a system of universal representation, as Oregon just moved towards doing.

With the legislature adjourned, the next few posts will look specifically at low voter turnout, and ways that our country could reclaim the mantle of world's greatest democracy by turning these abyssmal figures around.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

HB 340- Voter ID

The near complete lack of attention to election issues in this year's legislative session has been frustrating, to say the least.

One bad bill worth watching is HB 340, which would require voters to show state issued ID cards in order to cast their ballots. HB 340 passed both Government and Judiciary Committees last week and is scheduled for a floor vote today.

If it passes, it will head over to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain fate.

HB 340 does carry a provision to ensure that potential voters can be provided "provisional" IDs at no charge- if they can go down to their county clerk's office- not always an easy task for a person without a driver's license living in a rural area.

Then, in a further twist of malevolence, the bill stipulates that the counties will be reimbursed from the state's public campaign financing fund!

But the oddest thing about HB 340 is the proposal to include photos of all voters on the voting rosters supplied to each precinct.

Can you imagine being told you cannot vote because you don't look like the picture on your driver's license?

It is nearly as bizarre as Rep Patne's suggestion (HM 11) that you need to submit to a retinal scan or give a fingerprint in order to vote.

Watch this last week closely, it will be like a shell game trying to keep track of what is going on in Santa Fe. Nothing up their sleeves?