Last Thursday, December 18, the state canvassing board certified the results from a statewide recount in the election of Commissioner of Public Lands. The recount had been ordered by the Board after Election Day results showed the two candidates were separated by 704 votes, a margin of less than 1/2%. State law requires what it terms an “automatic recount” in any election with such a small margin of victory.
The results of the election did not change- Aubrey Dunn will be sworn in as New Mexico's next Commissioner on January 1- but it did reveal some problems with the recount procedure. For example, even though the law has been in effect since 2008, there were no procedures in place for the method and conduct of the recount. So the Secretary of State had to come up with procedures on the fly.
In turn, this resulted in a lawsuit filed by Commissioner Powell questioning several aspects of her guidelines. Powell's petition to the Supreme Court addressed many questions, some resolved, some not. For example, what would happen with provisional ballots that had not been counted after Election Day? Powell points out here that the number of outstanding provisional ballots exceeds the margin of his loss.
A related problem is the much reported failure to process voter registrations turned in at the Motor Vehicle Division and other state agencies. There have been multiple complaints from would be voters who were turned away on Election Day even though they had made good faith efforts to register through a government agency. Is this simply a series of clerical errors or an intentional assault on voting rights, and what is being done to remedy the problem?
As for the recount itself, it seems to have gone off smoothly. In Grant County, where I served as an observer (one of about a dozen), the day proceeded professionally and transparently. The results did not change even one vote out of the nearly 9000 cast.
Statewide, however, the margin of victory changed from 704 to 656. Notably, the total votes cast went from 499,666 to 499,330, a loss of 336. Where did those votes go? Significantly, over half of those votes, 187, disappeared from Colfax County, and another 86 went missing in Sandoval County. Is an explanation of those missing votes forthcoming?
For now, the affected parties seem content with the recount process, in spite of the questions raised. Overall, we are glad that New Mexico switched to a paper ballot system, so that a recount could be conducted.
In the long term, though, deeper issues need to be resolved. Clearly, rules for important election decisions should not be made in the heat of an election, when the rulemakers have a stake in the outcome. But we should also look at whether it is right that partisan elected officials (The Secretary of State and County Clerks) should be overseeing elections at all- what if this recount was required for the Secretary of State's race, for example, and Madame Secretary had to oversee her own recount?
Perhaps even more importantly- the question of who is a registered voter needs to be addressed. All eligible voters should be automatically enrolled on the voter roster. The government has plenty of opportunities to do so. All high school graduates should be immediately enrolled on the voter roster when receiving their diplomas. Every taxpayer (payroll, income, or property tax) should be enrolled on the voter roster. Anyone receiving government assistance (other than corporate welfare!) should be enrolled on the voter roster. It isn't rocket science- if we are a democracy, voting should be a given.
We look forward to the legislative session to see if any of the concerns raised by the recount will be addressed.
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