Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Legislative Priorities

Voting Matters has announced our 2011 legislative priorities. We are planning on focussing on three areas this session- Redistricting, Ballot Access, and Fair Ballots. Here are our position statements on the three.

In addition, we expect to support other election related bills, including banning political campaign contributions from state contractors and lobbyists, allowing election day voter registration, allowing parties to nominate candidates who are not party members (often called "fusion"), protecting and expanding public campaign financing, and others. More details will follow as the session unfolds.

1) Independent redistricting commissions

Fair elections are too easily skewed when sitting legislators are given control over how their district boundaries are drawn, or when a party in majority is allowed to draw congressional boundaries. Rather than call a costly special session of the legislature to draw district boundaries, which in all likelihood will end up in a drawn out court battle, it would be more prudent to appoint a nonpartisan or multipartisan task force with specific criteria to determine the new districts.

2) Ballot access and political party qualifications

New Mexico has some of the nation's most difficult provisions for non-major party candidates seeking to be on the ballot. In addition, statutes pertaining to qualifications of political parties are so ambiguous that they have been interpreted differently by different Attorneys General and Secretaries of State. At the very least, this language should be cleaned up to give potential parties and candidates a clear understanding of their requirements, and preferably, these requirements should be eased so as to give voters maximum choice on Election Day.

3) Eliminating Straight Party Ballot Option

The straight party option on NM ballots is confusing and discriminatory. There appears to be no mechanism in law allowing the straight party option to be included on the ballot, yet it is. Repeal of the relevant statute (section 1-12-53) in 2009 did not prevent the option from being included in 2010. And, oddly, in 2006 minor parties with candidates on the ballot had a straight party option, yet in 2008 they did not. In addition, there is general agreement among county clerks and election workers that the option is confusing to voters. It should be explicitly forbidden.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Count Every Vote New Mexico

Once again, the folks at Election Protection and Common Cause are partnering to monitor elections in New Mexico, and across the country. Please call 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you encounter anything peculiar on Election Day or when voting early.

These are the same folks whose work led to the uncovering of so many irregularities during the 2004 election, which led to the Recount effort, and eventually to New Mexico's switch to paper ballots with meaningful audits.

They are also looking for people to volunteer to be poll watchers on Election Day. For more info or to volunteer, see

Speaking of Common Cause, their annual luncheon is this Saturday, October 16 at 12:00, at the UNM Continuing Education building. Professor Lonna Atkeson will be delivering the keynote. Reserve your spot via their website.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Voting has begun

One of the nicest things about elections in New Mexico is that there is ample opportunity to cast one's ballot. Voters can vote by mail or in person beginning four weeks before the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. So, beginning yesterday, October 5, voting season is underway.

Registered voters can request that an absentee ballot be mailed to their homes, and return them by mail by Election Day, or, go into the county clerk's office and fill out their ballots during regular business hours. Beginning October 16, many counties will also have early voting at "satellite" locations as well.

So, there is really no excuse for registered voters not to participate in elections. So study up on your candidates, constitutional amendments, and bond issues, and get on out and vote!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last call- register to vote now

Tuesday, October 5, is the last day to register to vote in time for this November's election. Make sure you are registered at your current address by calling your local county clerk's office, in Santa Fe that is 986-6280. And encourage your friends and neighbors to get registered in time!

Voting Matters has been working to eliminate this extra step in voting eligibility by supporting Election Day Registration, which would allow people to go and register on Election Day and cast their ballots, but so far we have seen only limited success at the legislature. You can be sure a similar bill will be introduced this year, and we will be there to support it.

We would like to go beyond even Election Day Registration, and support Universal Voter Registration, in which the government would take a more active role in voter registration. The "Motor Voter" drives in the 1990's were very effective at registering more voters, and there is no reason that the government can't register every person who comes in contact with the government: when they apply for college student loans, get drivers licenses, apply for government assistance, pay their taxes- you name it.

One of our goals at Voting Matters is 100% citizen participation in elections, and breaking down barriers to registration is an important step in achieving that goal.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The New York Times has an interesting article on Congressional Redistricting today. One of the themes of the article is the importance of this year's election, and the impact an election of a Democratic or Republican governor will have on the process of redistricting in various states.

Of course, the unstated underlying premise is that Congressional seats are gerrymandered to ensure, or at least favor, election of members of certain political parties. This is true not only for Congress, but for state legislatures as well. The redistricting process in New Mexico after the 2000 census led to many rejected plans followed by a court battle, and there is little reason to think 2010 will be any different.

A plan calling for an independent redistricting commission has been introduced for the last few years, but can't make it through the House Voters and Elections Committee. It seems that our legislators are more interested in preserving their power bases than in creating a fair, participatory democracy.

An independent redistricting commission, and districts that are not gerrymandered as essentially incumbent protection plans would serve to increase interest in elections and voter participation. Both Voting Matters and the NM League of Women Voters will be supporting the creation of an independent redistricting commission in the upcoming legislature. We hope our legislators will look beyond their individual interests to see that a fair redistricting process is good for government and democracy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Move To Amend Meeting this Thursday

The local chapter of Move To Amend is meeting this Thurday to discuss the draft resolution and the strategy for moving forward with this campaign. Below is a letter from the steering committee inviting participation on this crucial campaign.

The resolution can be seen at


Greetings everyone,

We are excited to report that the SF Move to Amend Resolution sub-committee has been making progress and thanks to the good work of some of our amazing team members we now have our own unique local resolution to take to the streets on its way to City Council. We agreed at our first meeting to follow a progressive strategy that included the following general stages:

1. Local Campaign
-Launch a community education/outreach campaign to build wide-spread grassroots support (through the collection of individual, nonprofit, and business signatures in support of the resolution)
-Pass a City Resolution
-Pass a County Resolution

2. State-wide Campaign
-Share the Resolution and our organizing/training support with folks in other NM communities including cities, towns, & tribes
-Pass a Resolution through the State Legislature

We are having a follow-up Campaign Strategy meeting this Thursday at 7:45PM at Earth Care (1235 Siler Road, Suite D).

At this stage, we’d like to engage the larger group of Move to Amend volunteers and interested community members to help develop the strategy for this campaign and make it a reality. We also initiated a Study Group and would like others to join with us in the effort to educate and empower ourselves regarding this issue. A great way to begin this work is to sign up to our NM website where educational resources as well as information from our meetings, and the latest Move to Amend news from across the Country is available. There are working group areas set-up on the site for the Study Group, the Resolution, and the other groups we designated in previous meetings.

This will be an important tool as we coordinate this grassroots campaign here in Santa Fe. In part because it will allow the organizing effort to be much less centralized and much more democratic & participatory. So please sign-up and tell your friends and hopefully we’ll see some of you this Thursday.

In solidarity,
Move to Amend SF Coordinating Committee

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vote August 3

Residents of Santa Fe's Community College District will be able to vote Tuesday, August 3, on a bond issue authorizing $35 million dollars to improvements to the existing campus as well as construction of another campus, dubbed the Higher Learning Center, at the site of the former College of Santa Fe.

Please visit or for details about the election, and to to find your polling place. Early voting is going on at the college and the county building through next week.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Term Limits

Last week, the Santa Fe County Commission voted 4-1 in favor of supporting a state constitutional amendment to change term limits for themselves from two four-year terms to three four-year terms.

Voting Matters does not support this change. We see holding office as a way to do public service, and oppose the trend of people becoming career politicians who serve for life. Instead, we would like to see term limits applied to the legislative branch as well as county offices and state executive branch positions.

Opponents of term limits say every election is an opportunity to oust an incumbent, but this simple minded attitude overlooks the incredible advantages of incumbency, from name recognition to fundraising ability to gerrymandered districts.

We support changes to our election code, but this is a step in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Move To Amend

The Independence Day Holiday brought together friends and neighbors, good food and good cheer, and the inevitable discussions of our democracy and our government.

Two recent Supreme Court decisions were in the air- Citizens United, which establishes corporate personhood, and McComish v. Bennett, which strikes down parts of Arizona's Public Campaign Financing law. Both shift power towards the moneyed interests and away from open and fair elections.

Arizona's Public Campaign Financing law was found by the Court to "chill" free speech spending by providing matching funds to participating candidates who are outspent by non-participating candidates or independent campaign committees. This is one of the key elements that hold together public campaign financing systems in states and municipalities around the country, as it ensures competitiveness and encourages participation.

Citizens United is even more broad and more damaging. It establishes as law the falsehood of corporate personhood by expanding first amendment rights to corporate spending on elections.

That is why Voting Matters is supporting a Constitutional Amendment clarifying that corporations are not the same thing as natural persons.
Please visit to join the over 84,000 natural persons who have signed the motion in support of three principles to be included in the Amendment.
(1) To firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional protections.
(2) To guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and have our votes and participation count.
(3) To protect local communities, economies, and democracies from illegitimate "preemption" by state national and global governments.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Green Party Candidate Petitions Denied

On Tuesday, June 22, the office of the Secretary of State refused to accept petitions and filing papers from Green Party Congressional candidate Alan Woodruff. Interrim Director of Elections Don Franciisco Trujillo, the fifth person to hold the position in four years, declined to accept the petitions because the Green Party of New Mexico is no longer a qualified party, according to news reports.

If it is true that the Green Party is no longer a qualified party, then the Secretary of State has been in violation of the Election Code, which clearly states that upon making a determination that a political party is no longer qualified, they must notify the county clerks, who must then immediately notify all members of the party. Presumably, this is so party members can either join a qualified party or circulate petitions to requalify the party.

A few phone calls to county clerks revealed that the office of the Secretary of State has not notified them of the removal of the Green Party. A conversation with Don Francisco Trujillo also revealed that only the Libertarian Party is qualified to run candidates this year, also a clear violation of statute. Both the Independent Party and the Constitution party would remain qualified based on section 1-7-2 of the state election code, which says a party remains qualified for two elections after qualifying as a minor party, which both did during the 2008 election cycle.

These and other shenanigans have been going on ever since the Green Party qualified as the first new major party in New Mexico history back in 1994, when several of its candidates exceeded the 10% threshold to become a major party.

The state legislature has made it more difficult for minor party and independent candidates by moving up the date by which one must declare party membership and the candidate filing date, and attempted to make the major party threshold impossibly high.

And the Secretary of State and Attorney general's offices have colluded to reinterpret clear election law to all but eliminate the participation of minor party and independents from our elections.

As it stands, there will be very few contested elections in New Mexico in 2010, with 36 of 70 state house seats unopposed (yes, that is more than half!). Part of this is due to gerrymandered districts, but a large part of it is also due to our state's policy of shutting out voices of all but the socalled mainstream parties.

Personally, I am outraged by this attack on democracy, and I hope you are too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ballot Security

Election workers in Rio Arriba County have done it again. According to stories in the Rio Grande Sun,, ballot boxes have been illegally opened since the election.

According to the stories, Rio Arriba County Clerk, Moises Morales, opened ballot boxes in his office without the required supervision of the county canvassing board or a district judge. Recently reelected district judge Sheri Raphaelson signed an order allowing the ballot boxes to be opened, but did not stipulate when or where, nor did she ensure that she or a representative be present. It is not clear how the boxes were opened since the district court was supposed to have one of the two keys necessary to open the boxes.

The ballot boxes were apparently opened in search of missing absentee ballots, which should not have been there in the first place. Add this to the fact that Rio Arriba did not report election results until very late (after 2:00 AM), due to ballot boxes not being delivered promptly by precinct judges. This is the same county that saw an election judge take home and keep overnight three ballot boxes during the Democratic Presidential Caucus in 2008.

We have done great work to go to an all paper ballot system in New Mexico, including meaningful audits of elections. But apparently, we still have a long way to go to ensure that the ballots are secure on election day and through the canvassing and auditing period.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Primary Election

Last week's primary saw a very low turnout, approximately 28% of eligible voters made it to the polls. And that 28% only includes people registered in one of New Mexico's two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. Another 200,000 New Mexicans are not even eligible to vote in primaries either because they are registered in other parties or they "decline to state" a party affiliation. Still more eligible voters have not even registered at all, meaning the percent of potential voters that participated in the primary this year is more like 10-15%.

How does the state justify spending over $4 million for an election in which only some taxpayers can participate? Considering the fact that about one out of three new registrants choose no party, it seems like time to change the way parties select their nominees.

The New Mexican's Steve Terrell has already brought up the idea of an open primary, in which any registered voter can vote in any party primary, but the parties are not too excited about letting "non-members" have a say in their decisionmaking process. Another idea being floated about is a "top-two" system, in which any voter can participate, and all the candidates for an office are listed together, with the top two vote getters, regardless of party, being listed on the general election ballot. This has been done in Washington state and is being looked at in other places.

We think the state legislature should take a good look at revamping the election system here in New Mexico. If all the taxpayers are funding these elections, then all voters should have a say. If the parties don't want to allow nonmembers into their nominating process, then the parties should pay for the elections themselves, as the Democrats do with their Presidential "caucus".

Whatever happens, we certainly need to do something to increase participation in our elections.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Municipal Election Recap

Santa Fe- Neither Ranked Choice Voting nor Public Campaign Financing were used in this election, in spite of being approved by a vast majority of voters in 2008. Technological reasons are delaying Ranked Choice, as the ES&S machines used are not capable of performing the operation, and there is a reluctance to hand tally ballots after the election. As it turns out, all the contested races were won by the incumbents with a majority of the votes.

The Public Campaign Financing ordinance was passed by the council last fall, and is scheduled to begin with the 2012 election. However, there has been no appropriation to begin the fund, which by ordinance must have at least $300,000 in it at the beginning of the election cycle.

One interesting idea brought up as a campaign issue is at large districts for our council. Russell Simon suggested going to four council members elected from districts and four council members elected at large, meaning all voters have a vote for them as in mayor and judge elections. It is an idea worth investigating.

Las Vegas- The municipal home rule charter passed with 56%, and includes trraditional run off voting and a couple of other election code changes. There is some question in the city clerk's office as to whether this counts as an amendment to the existing charter, thereby requiring 60% to pass, but the Municipal League and others seem confident that since the new charter completely replaces the old one, it is a new charter and requires only 50% to pass.

Rio Rancho- Rio Rancho experimented with a new voting method on Election Day this year. Rather than having a polling place for each precinct, they had voting centers strategically placed around the city. Any city voter could go to any voting center and be given a ballot for their precinct.

Finally, as an election judge, I had several people ask me how they know their votes would be accurately tabulated. Our state has excellent audit requirements for state and federal elections, but none exist for municipal elections. I believe people would like to see municipal elections included in our audit laws and I hope we can see that come to pass over the next two years.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Legislative Session returns

Round one of the legislative session ended last week and none of the bills we were following did very well. Round two starts Monday ad we don't expect any election related bills to be on the Governor's call.

Two positive outcomes were HB 198, which finally clarified ownership and maintenance responsibility for the state's voting machines purchased in 2006. Also passing was HB 127 which allows 16 and 17 year olds to serve as precinct workers.

The various bills to create a state ethics panel never really came together, and there will be an effort during the interim to clean them up and present them as a better bill in 2011.

HB 118, which would have banned political campaign contributions from contractors and lobbyists was left to die in Senate Rules Committee and will be back again next year.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Legislative Session

Another week has passed at the legislature, and there has been some motion with election reform bills. With ten days to go, things are sure to heat up.

The ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists and contractors: HB 118 is now known as the committee substitute for HB 118 and moves on to the House Judiciary Committee where it could be heard as early as today.

Same day registration: HB 123 passed House Consumer and Public Affairs and moves to House Voters and Elections, where it is not yet scheduled. Its "companion bill" is Senate Bill 161 (John Sapien), which passed Senate Rules today and moves to Senate Judiciary. An attempt to attach a mandatory photo ID provision failed.

An "independent" redistricting commission resolution has been introduced as HJR 15 (Karen Giannini) and would appear on the November 2010 ballot as a Constitutional Amendment if it passes both houses. The amendment is problematic as written because it creates a commission that is actually bipartisan and not independent, with the members being appointed by the leaders of the legislature.

Rhonda King's continuing effort to resolve the state's purchase of voting machines in 2006 has been introduced as HB 198. It holds the counties harmless for the purchase and maintenance of the machines other than for ongoing storage. It will be heard in House Voters and Elections this week.

Public Campaign Financing: Both bills face uphill journeys on the Senate side. SB 51 (Eric Griego) would create a public campaign financing system for executive positions but has been scheduled to three committees. SB 67 (Feldman) would clarify the Voter Action Act but has not been ruled germane.

State Ethics Commission: There are a number of bills on both sides that address and implement a state Ethics Commission that are awaiting hearings in House Judiciary and Senate Rules Committees. This will almost certainly result in a compromise bill. Loyda Martinez of Common Cause has an opinion piece that outlines the essentials which I have copied below.

Ethics Commission

Albuquerque Journal
Sunday, February 07, 2010

Ensure Ethics Panel Can Make Difference

by Loyda Martinez, Board Member, Common Cause New Mexico

We're dipping into the last hectic days of another legislative session. As was the case last time around, we're faced with a half dozen different proposals to finally create an independent ethics commission in New Mexico. On the one hand, this is a good thing. It shows an enthusiasm among legislators to have New Mexico join 40 other states in establishing an independent, bipartisan body to field and investigate ethics complaints against public officials. Furthermore, all of the current bills are significantly better than the ethics commission bill that passed the House during the 2009 regular session.
On the other hand, the task of combining these various proposals into a single consensus bill is daunting. Luckily, Sen. Linda Lopez, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, and Rep. Al Park, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, seem to be up to the task. They both seek to gather the Senate and House versions of these bills, debate the fine points, and come up with one solid bill in each chamber to push through to the legislative finish line.
For good-government advocates, of course, the debate over the fine points is key. Basically, that debate comes down to balancing two equally valid values. First, the commission has to protect the due process rights of public officials accused of wrongdoing. If a commission is set up, it will inevitably receive frivolous complaints that need to be filed in the trash can where they belong. Yet at the same time, a commission must have enough teeth to launch serious investigations of nonfrivolous complaints. Otherwise, New Mexico would just be wasting money it doesn't have.
Balancing these two important values is difficult. Here are the elements Common Cause would like to see in an ideal ethics commission bill:
1) A good commission will have independent subpoena power to ensure the commission's access to key witnesses and relevant documents.
2) A simple majority quorum is the best way to ensure anything gets done. Although requiring a super-majority (or a super-super-majority) for the commission to take any action is tempting, this would be a very unusual step and might well result in a do-nothing commission.
3) Some level of confidentiality regarding ethics commission activities is appropriate to protect the right of respondents. Excessive secrecy, however, will decrease the legitimacy of the commission in the eyes of the public and make it impossible to judge the body's effectiveness. Ideally, only the initial complaint and investigation should be confidential. Once the commission determines that there is enough evidence to proceed to a formal hearing, there is no reason that the proceedings should not become public, and any ultimate finding of guilt or innocence should of course be published. A recent report from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government does an excellent job of analyzing the issues presented by the excessive emphasis on confidentiality in the current crop of bills.
4) Several of the proposals give the accused access to legal counsel paid for by the state. Under these proposals, if the commission finds that an ethics violation has occurred, the accused has to reimburse the state for the cost of the legal defense. This sounds good on paper, but the expense to the state is unknown and could be quite substantial. By way of comparison, the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission does not offer judges paid legal representation. It's conceivable that such a provision actually would discourage people from filing complaints with the commission because they would feel obligated to hire their own attorney to be on an equal footing with the respondent.
There are a couple other sticking points that aren't a huge concern to Common Cause but that have made it difficult to get a bill through both chambers and on the governor's desk. The big one is figuring out an appointment scheme for the commission that satisfies both the governor and the Legislature. Maybe splitting the appointments right down the middle is the best compromise — with a couple left over coming from the state Supreme Court.
In addition to investigating complaints against public officials, a good ethics commission would have several other duties. For one thing, it would be required to draft a code of ethics for the executive branch, which currently doesn't have one. A commission could also conduct trainings for officials and state employees to help instill a culture of ethics in New Mexico government. Finally, the commission would need to issue advisory opinions to answer questions by government officials about whether or not a specific kind of behavior is or isn't ethical.
Can we finally come together and get this done?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Corporate personhood

Another busy week ahead at the New Mexico Legislature- House Bills 118 and 123 both have hearings scheduled on Tuesday. HB 123 is the Same Day Registraion bill in House Consumer Affairs, and HB 118 will be heard again in House Voters and Elections. HB 118 was tabled Thursday, mostly due to the fact that a 'committee substitute' was introduced that morning and legislators wanted more time to study it.

But some of the opposition to HB 118 are already arguing that the recent Supreme Court decision in 'Citizens United' makes prohibiting campaign contributions unconstitutional. This isn't true, because Citizens United only rules on independent expenditures, not direct contributions.

We believe Citizens United is a horrible decision, and that is why Voting Matters has joined over 50,000 individuals and organizations in signing on to the Move To Amend. The goal of the movement is to amend the US Constitution to specifically declare that corporations are not persons and do not share in the rights of persons. The ball is moving, and we urge you to go to, sign on to the petition, and get involved in what may be the political struggle of our generation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lobbyist and Contractor Contribution Ban

Last week, I mentioned two Senate Bils that would reduce the effect of big money interests in New Mexico elections. On the House side, they managed to wrap both bills into one, and make some improvements. HB 118 was introduced by Representative Jose Campos, chair of the House Voters and Elections Committee. HB 118 will be heard in House Voters and Elections on Thursday morning at 8:30 in room 317. Voting Matters encourages a Do Pass recommendation from the committee.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Same Day Voter Registration

Representative Jim Trujillo (D-Santa Fe) has introduced HB 123. HB 123 would allow early voters the oportunity to register to vote and vote on the same day. Unfortunately, the provision does not apply on Election Day.

Voting Matters has long upported repealing the provision of law that requires voter registration 28 days before an election, and HB 123 is a step in the right direction. While we would have preferred a bill that abolishes the 28 day provision altogether, we do support HB 123 and hope it will lead to even further easing in the process of voter registration and participation.

Statistics bear out that states which allow Election Day Registration have higher rates of voter participation than those that prohibit it.

Likewise, we wonder why the process of registering to vote is made so difficult. Instead, we'd like to see our government facilitate the process. Voter participation would increase if the govenrment removed the additional hurdle of requiring voters to register themselves.

Why shouldn't a person become registered to vote when they first interact with the government- when they get a job and start paying taxes, or apply for government services or a driver's license, or graduate high school? These are certainly viable solutions and we hope the conversation will change from same day registration to universal voter registration.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2010 Legislative Session

The legislative session began Tuesday at noon, and will last 30 days this year. While it is always uncertain what electoral reforms will be discussed, we know several bills will be forthcoming in the realm of governmental ethics. Senate Bill 43 and House Bill 43 would create a state ethics commission to create standards and investigate complaints against elected and appointed state officials.

Three bills we at Voting Matters are actively supporting are Senate Bills 48, 49, and 51. Senate Bill 48, introduced by Tim Keller, would prohibit campaign contributions by state contractors. Senate Bill 49, introduced by Eric Griego, would likewise prohibit donations from business entities and lobbyists.

Senate Bill 51, also introduced by Senator Griego, would expand the Voter Action Act to include state executive and legislative candidates. The Voter Action Act is the law that implements the public campaign financing system for Public Regulation Commission and certain Judicial candidates.

These are three solid reforms to our election system that will reduce the effect of big money on our government decision making process and we will be following them closely in the weeks to come.