Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Public Campaign Financing and "Free Speech"

As a candidate who used New Mexico's public campaign financing system in my campaign for Public Regulation Commissioner in 2008, and a member of Santa Fe's Public Campaign Financing Advisory Committee the following year, I want to applaud those in Las Cruces seeking to implement such a system, as well as those trying to 'fix' the system in Albuquerque and statewide.

There is no doubt that big money has tarnished our elections, turning campaigns into obscene races for cash, filled with negative ads. Instead, election campaigns should be discussions of goals and visions that could lead to more engaged citizenry and better functioning government.

In my opinion, the system itself should not need to be fixed. It provides equal funding to participating candidates, and matching funds to counter outside interest groups' (or nonparticipating candidates') spending. It is an excellent system. However, the US Supreme Court disagrees, foolishly equating election spending with free speech.

Even if the analogy of money being the same as speech holds, the Supremes have in the past put limits on free speech. In the timeworn example, one can not falsely yell "Fire!" in a crowded firehouse- that 1st amendment right to free speech is outweighed by the safety concerns of the public at large. Similarly, a reasonable Supreme Court would see the danger to our elections, our government, and society as a whole, when they condone the buying of elections by big money interests.

To remedy this, some are waiting for an enlightened Supreme Court. Not me. I think it is time for 'We the people' to tell the Supremes they got it wrong, the only way we can. I am supporting a Constitutional amendment that will once and for all clearly state that "Money is not speech, and corporations are not people".

During elections, and at other times, corporations have been using the 14th, 5th, 1st, and other amendments to get away with murder. They hide behind 1st amendment rights to lie about their products and activities; they use 14th amendment rights to evade government regulations and fees; and of course, they infuse elections with spending that can't be regulated or even monitored in some cases.

Fortunately, a few brave Congresspeople are stepping up to help everyday citizens in this fight. And it is indeed a fight- it may be the civil rights battle that defines our generation. House Joint Resolution 48 would amend the US Constitution to clarify that money is not speech and corporations are not people. It has only has 11 sponsors, so far, but it is exactly what we need to take back our government from the moneyed interests that the Founders warned about.

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: http://www.nmpolitics.net/index/2015/11/what-new-mexico-politics-can-learn-from-nebraska/

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 www.nmpolitics.net

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?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Another low turnout election

Silver City held its municipal election Tuesday March 3, reelecting two incumbents. District 3 Councillor Jose Rey received 48 votes, or 2.5% of registered voters in the district.

In the contested district 1 race, a little more than 10% of registered voters came to the polls, with Cynthia Bettison defeating Ronald Perez, 137-54. This was the second election that the two have squared off.

The voter participation rate for the election was 6.4%, according to the Gila regional Community News at www.gilaresources.net.

Two years ago, neither Bettison nor Rey had any competition, and a mere 46 voters showed up to show their support.

We once again have to express wonder at how we can make democracy matter. Clearly, we need to find ways to encourage more candidate and voter participation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Joe Monahan on Election Issues

If you don't regularly read Joe Monahan's blog, I highly recommend it. Joe has been reporting on New Mexico politics for decades, and has a well developed point of view. Recently, Joe has covered some electoral issues of importance to Voting Matters readers.

Yesterday, over at www.joemonahan.com, Joe commented on the unworkability and lack of importance of the bill to move the major party primaries to March, echoing some of what was posted at Voting Matters February 16.

And last week, Monday, February 23, Joe published my proposed solution to the very low turnout school board elections, reprinted below:


Rick Lass writes of reader Jim McClure's suggestion that we do away with low voter turnout school board elections and have the mayor appoint the board members:

I just don't think it is workable. Very few school board district boundaries would coincide with municipality boundaries, for one. Plus, I still like the idea of electing governing bodies. One idea would be to include school board members on general election ballots--when people are already going to the polls. Of course, naysayers will worry about "too long" ballots. There is a bill introduced this year to move them to the fall of odd-number years, but I don't see how that would help. My suggestion would be that school elections be conducted by mail. Naysayers will be concerned about fraud and ID, etc. But really, it is no different than the absentee ballot system allowed for all other elections, and works very well.

Good idea, Rick. Moving the school board elections to November and/or a mail-in ballot would seem the logical way to raise interest.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Voter Suppression

This interesting article by Saen McElwee appeared this morning on Salon.com. It very clearly and thoroughly addresses why we need better election laws by examining data from surveys of nonvoters. The first link is what appeared on Salon, the second is the original article published last October. Finally, a link to the author's homepage.




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


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.


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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

0% Turnout in school election!

Last Tuesday, school boards across the state had elections. These elections typically have extremely low turnout, but little Hagerton, in Chaves County, set a new low.

Not a single person turned out to vote, not even the candidates themselves. Noone was elected.

According to a story in the Albuquerque Journal (link below), the main cause of this tragedy is that the nearest polling location was 26 miles away, in Roswell. And since all three positions were uncontested, no voter bothered to make the drive.

Not that having a polling place in Hagerman would have made a huge difference. The Albuquerque election only saw 2.6% of eligible voters bother to cast ballots.

I'd love to be able to say that everyone is so pleased with the schools in New Mexico that they needn't concern themselves with their administration, but that flies in the face of reality. The truth is that we have a democracy problem.

At the very least, we should have a requirement that there be a polling place located in the jurisdiction where the elected officials officiate. (Actually, we shouldn't need a requirement- it is plain common sense- but the county clerk in Chaves seems to need a reminder).

Not everyone sees a problem with this. One of the candidates who was not elected said, "It's all good."

We don't think it is at all good- and we hope the legislature begins a meaningful discussion of how to increase voter and candidate participation in our elections.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Upcoming legislative hearings

As we head into week four of this year's session, some election related bills are finally getting a hearing. Let's remember this slow start at the end of the session, when legislators shrug and throw up their hands explaining "we just ran out of time."
It's time to seriously evaluate whether the legislative process is working for New Mexicans, but more on that later.

Monday, February 9, at 8:30 am in room 321, Senate Rules will be hearing SJR 1, the Constitutional Amendment that would let voters decide to empanel Independent Redistricting Boards to draw legislative and other district boundaries. Senator Lopez has been reluctant to hold hearings on this in the past, so please contact her and other members to voice your support.

Senator Linda M. Lopez
Senator Daniel A. Ivey-Soto
Senator Jacob R. Candelaria
Senator Stuart Ingle
Senator Mark Moores
Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino
Senator Cliff R. Pirtle
Senator Clemente Sanchez
Senator Michael S. Sanchez
Senator Sander Rue

You can reach any of them through the main switchboard at 505-986-4600, or look them up online at www.nmlegis.gov.

On the House side, the Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee has scheduled three election related bills for Wednesday, February 11 at 8:30 am in room 307.

HB 205 would expand the state's public campaign financing system to include legislative candidates. Clearly, if this is a good idea for PRC candidates, it is a good idea for potential lawmakers.

HB 150 and HB 151, introduced by Representative Steinborn, aim to increase voter participation, one by allowing voter registration at early voting sites, the other by allowing 17 year olds to vote in primaries (if they will turn 18 by the general election in November).

We think that a better solution is universal voter registration of all citizens handled by the Secretary of State and county clerks, but Rep Steinborn's bills are steps in the right direction.

Members of HGEIC are:

Representative James E. Smith, Chair
Representative Sharon Clahchischilliage
Representative Eliseo Lee Alcon
Representative Zachary J. Cook
Representative Kelly K. Fajardo
Representative Doreen Y. Gallegos
Representative Dianne Miller Hamilton
Representative James Roger Madalena
Representative Antonio Maestas
Representative W. Ken Martinez
Representative Jane E. Powdrell-Culbert
Representative Debbie A. Rodella

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Public Campaign Financing for Legislative Candidates

Senator Peter Wirth and Representative Miguel Garcia have introduced bills to expand the public campaign financing system to include legislative candidates.

These companion bills would take the existing Voter Action Act and apply it to New Mexico's legislative districts just as it does for state PRC districts, with money allocated proportionally to the number of voters in the district, for both primary and general elections.

An elected official who used public campaign financing will feel accountable to the public at large, unlike an official who relied on big money contributions from special interests.

This system all but eliminates big money from elections. But problems remain, especially with the rise of dark money groups and the unlimited, unreported fundraising and spending that happens in the wake of the Supreme Court's faulty Citizens United decision.

The long term solution is a federal Constitutional amendment clarifying that money is not speech and corporations are not people.

In the short term, let's keep taking steps towards cleaner and more civil campaigns. SB 259 and HB 205 are good bills, and the legislature should pass them.

After all, they have already determined that Public Regulation Commissioners and Judges should make decisions uninfluenced by campaign contributions. Isn't that equally true for our lawmakers?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Goodbye Voters and Elections

In a blog entry last week, we pondered whether our state legislators shared our concerns about low voter turnout and ways to improve participation and make elections more fair. In week one of the state legislature, the new Republican majority sent out a resounding “NO!” to our query.

One of the first acts of business each year is staffing the standing committees. This year, however, the leadership decided to do more, and renamed or eliminated many committees.

Most importantly to followers of this blog: the House Voters and Elections Committee has been disbanded. Elections have been folded into the Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee, leaving us wondering what happened to the aspect of the committee concerned with Voters?

Speaker Tripp will still have to send voting related measures somewhere, and we assume that will be the now transformed HGEIC.

Meanwhile, we wait to see what will be introduced to help elections attract more voters. After week one, we so far have a Voter ID bill (HB61, Rep James Smith), a bill expanding Motor Voter (SB13, Sen Jacob Candelaria), a bill “fixing” the public campaign financing system (SB58, Sen Peter Wirth), and a resolution for a constitutional amendment creating an independent redistricting commission (SJR1, Rep Carl Trujillo and Sen Bill O'Neill).

We will keep you posted- or visit www.nmlegis.gov to track these and other bills.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Citizens United Rally and Forum

Saturday, January 24, 4:00 PM

Rally for Human Rights, Justice and Campaign Finance Reform
at Girard and Central-around the Walgreens/Mannies area
walking up to Central and Washington to the School of Music

Followed by a night of discussion:
Get the MOP (Money out of Politics)
5th Anniversary of Citizens United
New Mexico School of Music
136-J Washington SE, Albuquerque NM

5:30: Doors open, light dinner is served, coffee, tea, baked goods
6:00: "Pay to Play: Democracy's High Stakes" will be shown
7:00: intermission/discussion
7:15: Panel with discussion

Moderator: Mary Smith, NM League of Women Voters

Panel: Albuquerque City Council President Rey Garduno
Former State Senator Dede Feldman
UNM Student/Youth Activist Juliana Bilowich
Executive Director Rio Grande Foundation Paul Gessing
National Organization of Women, Albuquerque. VP Cat Jabar

Hosted by:
The New Mexico chapters of Move to Amend, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Move On, WOLFPAC, PIRG, Progressive Democrats, ANSWER and Veterans for Peace, The Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, NM Advocates for Change, SWOP and Burque Medio

For more info, call Tom at 450-1268 or Sally-Alice at 268-5073.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 Legislative Session

At Voting Matters, our main goals are reforms that will increase the number of voters who go to the polls. With the start of the legislative session this week, we wonder how many policymakers share our concerns.

One of the main reasons people don't vote is the lack of choices on Election Day. Fully one half of legislative seats in November 2014 were uncontested. Even the party primaries saw extremely low competitiveness: only 6 of 70 Republican party primaries had 2 candidates; 12 of 70 Democratic seats were contested last June.

One reason that voters don't have choices in November is the extremely restrictive ballot access laws on the books. In fact, New Mexico has had the lowest number of independent and minor party candidates on the ballot of any state over the past 7 elections- a mere 34 non-major party candidates running for federal, state, and legislative seats (according to Ballot Access News).

The other major obstacle that prevents voters from having choices is our ridiculous method of drawing legislative district boundaries. The blatant gerrymandering is so obscene that it has resulted in lawsuits in six of the past seven decades, at a cost of millions to taxpayers- and the results are still categorically unfair. The fact that not a single district had contested primaries for both major parties confirms what the voters already know- it is pointless for a Democrat to run in a Republican designated district and vice versa. We clearly do not have a democracy when it comes to state legislature elections.

There are two easy reforms that would lead us closer to Democracy. One would be easing the onerous requirements on minor party and independent candidates (independents currently need to gather signatures of 3% of the voters in a given district, a requirement which prevented a former member of the state's public education commission from getting on the ballot in 2014). The second positive reform would be creating an independent redistricting commission to redraw district boundaries- boundaries that could be drawn so as not to create noncompetitive Democratic controlled and Republican controlled districts.

Of course, if we want a true democracy that elects representatives for all the citizens (including the 22% who don't align with the two major parties), we need to switch to a system of proportional representation, like nearly every other modern democracy uses. This would move us away from the partisan gridlock that grips our legislative process and the vindictive nature of the two party system.

As this year's “long” 60-day session unfolds, we'll keep our eyes open for bills that will improve our elections and our government.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Santa Fe Municipal Redistricting

After Friday's blog entry on new electoral procedures being used for the first time last year, it came to our attention that the city of Santa Fe will be implementing yet another reform in the coming months: an independent redistricting commission.

City voters approved a charter amendment last year requiring independent redistricting commissions (no doubt in part due to the vindictive nature of the council's previous redistricting, in which one councilor was districted out of his seat).

The city is wasting no time in implementing the procedure. Having just annexed areas in the southwest part of what is now the city, new boundaries for council districts need to be drawn before the 2016 municipal election.

Members of the commission need to be registered city voters, and applications are due today. Seven members will be selected, and their work will be finished by June.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2014 Recap

2014 saw a couple of relatively new election law reforms being used, and two others still under fire.

At the state level, we saw a recount of the Land Commissioner election. This was the first ever “automatic recount” in NM history, triggered because the margin of victory in the race was less than one half of one per cent. The “automatic recount” law was part of a package of laws mandating paper ballots, voting machine audits, and recounts in close elections.

These reforms followed the illegally denied Presidential recount of 2004 (you may remember, the state canvassing board denied the recount demanded by the Green and Libertarian candidates. The Canvassing Board's denial was deemed incorrect and illegal by the state supreme court over a year after the fact).

The good news is that the Land Commissioner recount confirmed the accuracy of the Election Day count, with only a few discrepancies (see related blogpost of 12/22/14), and the pubic should have a renewed trust in New Mexico's Voting Machine Systems, now that we have recountable paper ballots and good audit and recount procedures.

Another example of a positive voting reform used successfully for the first time was Santa Fe's initiative process. Originally a part of the city charter adopted in 1998, and revised at the 2008 general municipal election, the initiative process allows citizens to petition for laws that the city council might not otherwise pursue. Similar procedures exist for referendums on council passed laws and for recall of elected officials.

In this case, advocates for reducing penalties for marijuana possession from a felony offense to a misdemeanor turned in sufficient petition signatures to require the city council to take action. The council had the choice of putting the question to the voters or to enact the law, and they chose to put the law on the books.

Public Campaign Financing
One other law supported by Voting Matters that has been getting a lot of attention in recent years is public campaign financing. Foolishly, the US Supreme Court held that a key provision of most public financing systems is unconstitutional. They hold that matching funds provisions put a “chilling” effect on nonparticipating candidates free spending rights.

Because of this ruling, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and the state are having to revisit their public campaign financing laws. We will have more to say about this in our legislative preview next week, as Senator Wirth has taken the initiative again to remedy this problem.

Of course, followers of this blog know that we think the real solution is a US Constitutional Amendment clarifying that money is not speech and corporations are not people.

Ranked Choice Voting
Lastly, we still hope for action in Santa Fe on implementation of Ranked Choice Voting, a charter amendment passed in 2008 with 66% of the vote. The city still insists they are waiting for voting machines with the necessary software to conduct the runoff. Yet they seem to be doing nothing to advance the purchase of that technology, which does exist and is used in other jurisdictions around the nation. Nor are they willing to simply use existing machines or do a hand tally shortly after Election Day to determine the winner of the runoff

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Electroal College, Revisited

The Republicans are on to something. For all of the wrong reasons, of course, but at least they are opening up a debate about the Electoral College.

There is a move afoot to manipulate how electoral votes are cast from states that tend to award their Electoral College votes to the Dems. The Republicans would like to imitate the Maine plan that awards Electoral College by Congressional District instead of awarding all of a state's votes to the highest vote getter.

While we have railed against the winner-take-all approach to elections for years, we don't see much value in the Republican model. Partially, because it is a piecemeal plan being presented for partisan gain, only being pursued in places which would benefit the GOP.

Now, if it were being introduced as a national system that would require all states to award their votes in the same manner, we could seriously consider it as a meaningful reform. Except that the other problem with the plan is in its method of allocating the Electoral College votes. As long as we have the current sick method of drawing Congressional Districts (and state legislative and other districts, for that matter), anything based on those districts is beyond questionable. It is downright unfair.

A better method for proportional representation of state's Electoral College votes would be mathematical. A strict ratio of Electoral College votes to votes cast on Election Day, as many states, including New Mexico, instruct the parties to use when voting at a Presidential Nominating Convention.

To take a real life example, we look at the state of Florida in 2000, the aftermath of which involved Supreme Court intervention, the blame game (how dare Ralph Nader run for President?!?), and unmitigated drama. How much simpler if Florida allocated its 25 Electoral College votes proportionally? 12 for Bush, 12 for Gore, 1 for Nader. No lawsuits, no drama, just a fair representation of the will of the voters.

The other option that bears mentioning is a national popular vote plan, advocated by FairVote and other good government groups. Abolish the Electoral College, count the votes, declare the winner. A much simpler and fairer plan, which, using Ranked Choice Voting, would ensure a winner with majority support even in the typically crowded field of Presidential candidates.

The key to success here is not the piecemeal plan advocated by Republicans for their own gain, but a national strategy that ensures fair representation of the will of the voters, encourages voter (and candidate) participation, and is transparent and easily understood. Yes, the Electoral College and winner take all systems need revision. Determining the best improvements is a national dialog that can result in an improved Democracy.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What is PNM Thinking?

This is an opinion piece I wrote that was recently published in several New Mexico newspapers.

New Mexicans breathed a sigh of relief last year in hearing that PNM would be closing down two of the dirtiest coal fired plants in the nation. Those two generators at the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico are responsible for six million tons of carbon pollution in our skies every year, not to mention other pollutants like mercury, sulfur dioxides, etc.

Unfortunately, our relief was short-lived. PNM has a backward plan to make up for its loss of generating capacity from closing half of the San Juan coal plant. Rather than making an investment in clean, abundant solar and wind power, PNM has stuck with what it knows best- dirty, expensive, and dangerous coal and nuclear generators.

PNM proposes to derive more than 40% of its total generating capacity from coal through 2053! In addition, it will increase its use of nuclear power (created at the Palo Verde site in AZ) to 30%, while getting less than 4% from solar and no new wind.

At a time when the rest of the world is in a race to develop the most efficient technologies to lead the world into a cleaner and prosperous energy future, the powers at PNM are stuck trying to extract every bit of profit from coal and nuclear.

Of course, the system is a part of the problem. New Mexico has granted monopoly powers to PNM. In exchange for providing reliable electricity to its customers, PNM does not have to worry about competitors and is guaranteed a profit - a profit based on consumption, the more electricity they sell, the more they profit. And quite the profit indeed- have you seen their share prices and executive salaries lately? Pretty good for a “public service company.”

PNM's coal and nuclear plan needs the approval of the state's Public Regulation Commission. And the PRC has scheduled a hearing for January 5 to evaluate PNM's proposal, and to take public input.

Will the PRC take seriously its role as a regulatory agency to protect the public's health, safety, and welfare against unbridled corporate greed? Or will it act as a rubber stamp for the moneyed interests to continue to plunder the resources of our commonwealth and endanger public health.

The pitfalls are clear: a runaway corporate entity fueling climate change, polluting our land, air, and water, and leaving all of us dependent on its outdated thinking.

If the PRC does its job properly and rejects this antiquated proposal, demanding instead an investment in cleaner, cheaper renewable sources - the benefits are equally clear: a healthier environment, healthier people, a reduction in pollution, and an investment in green technologies that would create good paying jobs.

This last bit deserves more. If the politicians on the PRC step up and do the right thing, New Mexico will benefit greatly on the jobs front. If the PRC requires the investor owned utility to deploy renewable energy, we can create thousands of green collar jobs. Our high schools and colleges are already employing teachers and faculty in green technology. The solar industry is one bright spot in NM with home and commercial scale installers and skilled laborers experiencing meaningful work.

Please make your voice heard! The Public Regulation Commission needs to know that people are paying attention, and that we care deeply about both the economic and ecological effects of how electricity will be generated in New Mexico for the next twenty years.

Attend the January 5 public hearing at the PERA building in Santa Fe and submit written testimony. Call your PRC Commissioners and tell them to require PNM invest in advanced solar and wind today!

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