Thursday, October 27, 2011

Common Cause Luncheon Saturday

Our friends at Common Cause are hosting their annual luncheon this weekend- Saturday, October 29 from 12:00-2:00 PM at the Continuing Ed building at UNM. They will be presenting the Jack Taylor Award to state senator Peter Wirth for his ongoing leadership on clean election laws. There will also be a panel discussion on the future of campaign financing laws.

To sign up, visit their website at or call 505-323-6399. Cost is $20 and includes lunch. Please support Common Cause's valuable work in New Mexico.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

More Money in Politics

Last week, local newspapers published financial reports of state and federal candidates. Unfortunately, for the mass media, raising money is becoming synonymous with winning. Our elections are becoming less about debating the critical issues facing our state and nation, and more about marketing and negative campaigning.

At the same time, Public Regulation Commission candidate Danny Maki declared that he would not be using public campaign financing. His donation report shows exactly why we need public financing in this important post. Maki avoided directly breaking the campaign code restrictions on who can donate to PRC candidates (see the below post for more on this trend), but he is clearly an industry insider, or trying to become one.

It is way beyond time to break this cycle. On top of what is happening with candidates, we can also expect to see over the top spending by independent groups due to the Supreme Court's ridiculous ruling in Citizens United. Election 2012 will certainly be the most expensive in US history, but people power can overcome corporate power. It's up to us to make sure it does.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Money in Politics

Today's Santa Fe New Mexican highlights this state's ongoing problem with money in politics. Two headline stories focus on what should be illegal donations to our state's leaders.

One points out that Governor Martinez accepted over $400,000 to her various campaign funds during the legislative period just ended. The period is even called a prohibited period in state campaign law, but Governor Martinez points out it is only illegal to solicit donations, not to accept them.

Across the street, Attorney General Gary King has accepted a $15,000 donation to help repay his 2010 campaign debt, in spite of a newly passed law limiting individual contributions to $5,000 each. It's ok, says the man charged with enforcing New Mexico's laws, because it is for a past campaign not a current one.

All this comes as a group of Republicans is trying to overturn the law in our state Supreme Court, claiming it interferes with their First Amendment right to free spending.

Money is not speech. Corporations are not people. Government is not for sale.

It is time to take our Democracy back. Occupy Santa Fe!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Residents of Albuquerque are encouraged to get out and vote in tomorrow's municipal election. Candidates for city council and 12 ballot questions are to be decided.

And everyone is encouraged to go to and vote in their opinion poll, which asks about the recent special legislative session, called to redistrict the state's Congressional, PRC, and legislative districts. There is even an option for an independent redistricting commission!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

State and County Redistricting

The legislators have left Santa Fe. After 20 days at $50,000 each (a cool $1,000,000), all they seem to have accomplished is passing partisan plans for redistricting that are sure to be vetoed. They could not even agree on a plan for the US House of Representatives. The Republicans called the Democratic plan partisan, the Democrats called the Republican plan partisan, and in this case I think they are both correct.

As the state plans head to the governor and then almost certainly into the courts, Santa Fe County is holding two public hearings on its plan for the Board of County Commissioners. Tuesday, September 27, the redistricting plans will be discussed at the regular board meeting. Another meeting is planned October 11.

More info and maps of the 5 plans are available for viewing at the county website, Hopefully, the commission can act in a more responsible manner than the state or city did.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Redistricting Nightmare

New Mexico's Congressional and Public Regulation Commission districts have been redrawn, and the plans have been approved by the legislature along party lines.

As predicted, there is the threat of a veto by the governor, which would mean the situation will end up in the courts, with NM judges making the final decision on district boundaries.

NM Democratic lawmakers are once again putting partisan politics ahead of fair play and real democracy. We have been advocating for a long time for the creation of a citizens' commission to redraw these lines based on objective standards. This year's $1,000,000 special session is nothing more than partisan posturing and power grabbing that has no place in our democracy.

We need to avoid this fiasco in 2020, and to that end we will be working to pass a law requiring independent commissions beginning then. It's a shame the legislature did not heed this advice in time to save the state millions of dollars this year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Public Campaign Financing in Albuquerque

Albuquerque's municipal election is October 4, 2011. Voters will elect councilors in 4 of the 9 districts, and vote on a dozen bond issues and one proposition. Early voting starts today. see for details on voting sites and ballot questions.

Of note is the fact that 4 of the 6 candidates have chosen to participate in the city's public campaign financing system, in spite of the recent decision by the US Supreme Court that ruled the matching funds provision unconstitutional.

Only Greg Payne and Trudy Jones in Council District 8 have opted out of the system. Predictably, that race has also generated some seriously negative campaigning, as reported yesterday at New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan (

If you live in district 8, ask the candidates why they aren't running clean- and get out and vote, Albuquerque!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Special Legislative Session on Redistricting

Tuesday, September 6, legislators will be reconvening in Santa Fe to set district boundaries for the next ten years. Despite repeated attempts by citizen activists to create an independent commission to redraw district boundaries, once again legislators will be responsible for creating the new districts.

Will we see most districts gerrymandered as a form of incumbent protection plan? Or ornery representatives abusing their powers in attempts to punish independent minded legislators, as recently happened in Santa Fe's redistricting process? Probably both. Will we see a repeat of the last redistricting process that ended up in costly court cases. Probably so, seeing as we once again have a Democratic legislator and Republican governor.

Two Santa Fe area legislators at least took the time last week to hold public hearings for constituents, but don't expect much more transparency from our elected officials. There are currently 8 different plans for the house and senate, 7 for the Congress and 5 for the PRC. They are viewable at

We will blog about the plans as they become more finalized, and begin again in January to lobby for an independent commission to do this critical work after the 2020 census, and beyond.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ranked Choice Voting in Santa Fe

At the Santa Fe City Council meeting last Tuesday (August 30), four people testified in favor of implementation of Ranked Choice Voting. Nonetheless, it seems we are no closer to using it in 2012.

Unbelievably, the administration and even some councilors seem to think that it is too much work to follow the law. One councilor even wrote in an email that it doesn't matter whether we are capable of implementation, because "I could not support adding a 3rd new requirement for the next election."

Amazing, it is as if the city gets to pick and choose which of its laws to enforce, based on convenience and circumstance?

I hope you'll take a moment to contact the mayor and your councilors and tell them you want to see Ranked Choice Voting in March 2012.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

More On Santa Fe Ranked Choice Voting

We are now trying two more tactics in the attempt to implement Ranked Choice Voting in Santa Fe. First, we are mounting a public pressure campaign to get the attention of our councilors. Please send a letter to the editor and contact your city representatives about the issue.

There is a Santa Fe city council meeting Tuesday, (yes, Tuesday instead of Wednesday), August 30. I am urging everyone to either appear at 7:00 to make public comment, or contact your councilors and the mayor today or tomorrow and urge them to commit to implementing Ranked Choice Voting in March 2012.

The message is simple: software and equipment to implement Ranked Choice is available at a reasonable cost, therefore, it is illegal NOT to have Ranked Choice Voting in the next municipal election.

Second, we are looking at the cost and feasibility of a lawsuit forcing the city to implement Ranked Choice Voting in the 2012 election. A lawyer is currently reviewing relevant law. If you care to make a donation to help cover the cost, please send a check to Voting Matters, POB 4764, SF NM 87502, with "legal fund" in the memo line.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ranked Choice Voting

Followers of this blog are aware that the city of Santa Fe amended its charter in 2008 to require the use of Ranked Choice Voting in municipal elections. Nonetheless, the city council and administrators have not done their jobs to make sure that the will of the people is followed. So, it is looking like the city will once again use a plurality takes all system in 2012.

I think it is time for one last ditch effort to have Ranked Choice Voting in March, and I have sent the following letter to the mayor, councilors, city attorney and city clerk. If you agree that the city should follow its own laws, I hope you will take a moment to call or write your councilors and the mayor. Contact information for them is found at


Dear councilor,

Call me crazy, but I am writing to you one final time before election 2012 begins, in the earnest hope that you will create an ordinance to pave the way for implementation of Ranked Choice Voting.

As you know, the city charter calls for implementation “in 2010, or as soon thereafter as equipment and software for tabulation of votes and the ability to correct incorrectly marked, in-person ballots, is available at a reasonable price”.

We have demonstrated three ways that implementation can be achieved in the case a runoff is required. (1) by hand tallying the results; (2) by hand sorting the ballots based on first place choices and refeeding the ballots into existing machines; or (3) by buying or leasing a single machine capable of conducting the runoff.

Again, we need a simple ordinance that would allow us to use a machine other than those provided by the county, and extend the canvassing period to allow for time to conduct the runoff. The memo you recently received from the Secretary of State’s office merely reiterates that state law requires municipalities to use county machines, but it does NOT address the issue of whether the city can amend its election code for this purpose. As a home rule charter city, Santa Fe has created its own election code, and can amend it to allow use of a different voting machine.

It seems to me that the onus is on the city to show that the equipment and software is NOT available at a reasonable cost, since it has been demonstrated that the runoff can be done with existing equipment, and since the charter requires Ranked Choice Voting when that condition is met.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

End Legalized Bribery- a book review

I just picked up this book at the 25 cent book exchange in La Tienda at Eldorado- a great place for books of all types. "End Legalized Bribery" was written by former Congressman Cecil Heftel, and published in 1998. It was published at the same time that Arizona and Maine were adopting Public Campaign Financing systems, on which New Mexico's laws are based.

While it is noticibly dated in some respects, it is a treasury of good information proving the need for meaningful campaign financing of public elections.

Heftel's book begins with a photo of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich pledging to take on lobbying and political reform in 1995 with the caption "They Lied". The opening chapters outline the problem, making the comparison that if donations like those during Congressional campaigns were given to judges or executive branch policy makers, contributors would be convicted of bribery.

Heftel then goes on to lay out the basics of meaningful campaign financing, including five principles: (1) limit spending and duration of campaigns; (2) eliminate money as determinant of candidates' viability; (3) create a level playing field; (4) break the hold of monied interests on our government; and (5) be comprehensive, free of loopholds, easy to understand, and easy to enforce.

The central chapters of the book give specific examples of campaign contributions by certain sectors of the economy, and the resultant laws that are passed by Congress to benefit those groups. There are chapters on health policy, defense, taxes, the deficit, the environment, and industries like the automotive.

Heftel repeatedly points out that the Big Businesses involved do not just give away money, but as with other expenditures, they expect a return on investment with their campaign contributions. And they get it-Heftel points out that Congressmen who vote with their supporters get much more in contributions than those who vote in opposition.

In spite of being written over a decade ago, this book is poignant today. The US Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional certain parts of the Arizona (and by extension, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and New Mexico systems). Advocates for fair elections and good government need to review these tenets and challenge the Supreme decision. One way is to amend the constition to clarify that corporations are not people, as our friends at are doing. Another is to make sure new public campaign financing laws will pass muster under the current interpretation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jerome Block and our broken electoral system

The untold story of the Jerome Block scandal is how he came to be elected in the first place. While the major media focuses on his immaturity and dereliction of duty, you won't see much mention of our broken electoral system.

First, Jerome won his Democratic Party primary with a mere 20% of the vote. That is right, four out of five Democrats voted for someone other than Jerome in June 2008. Whatever happened to majority rules?

Then, it comes to light that Jerome had illegally spent public campaign funds, in two instances--one, by donating public money to another candidate (Hillary Clinton), and two, by giving money to San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maes for a supposed performance by a band at a rally that never took place. A small fine was imposed, but no further repercussions.

Finally, the sraight party ballot option put him over the top in the general election. Its defenders say it is a convenience to voters, but the fact is that 5 out of 13 county clerks (all Democrats) misinformed the press (and presumably voters) about whether a voter could vote straight party in general but change votes in certain races, when asked about it by the SF Reporter.

Voting Matters has been out in front on all three of these issues for years--by advocating for Ranked Choice Voting in party primaries and all elections with more than two candidates, by advocating for Public Campaign Financing and strict enforcement of violations, and by advocating for the elimination of the straight party ticket in general elections.

Our elections are broken, and as a result, our democracy is broken too. Let's hope the powers that be feel the pressure from we the people so that we can create the government and democracy that is our birthright.

Monday, August 8, 2011

public campaign financing in Santa Fe

Here is a letter I just sent to city councilors on their ordinance to move up filing dates and dates for public campaign financing. Please let your voice be heard before Wednesday's city council meeting.

Dear Councilor,

I just want to drop you a quick line regarding the upcoming vote to change certain dates to accommodate provisions of the public campaign financing ordinance.

As a member of the advisory committee that helped draft the ordinance, I want to encourage you to approve the changes.

One of the main concerns of candidates considering using public financing is that they will be vastly outspent by privately funded candidates, and in this instance, the worry is that campaigns won’t have the needed startup money soon enough to compete with nonparticipating candidates, who have no time limit on when they can begin spending campaign money.

For public campaign financing to work, it needs to provide as level a playing field as possible, and this ordinance will help do that. Please support the ordinance with a yes vote on Wednesday.

PS: This would be an opportune time to amend the ordinance to include an extended canvassing period after the election to accommodate the eventual implementation of Ranked Choice Voting.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Redistricting is under way

I just sent this letter to the editor of the Journal Santa Fe, in response to their editorial on Santa Fe's redistricting plan.

If you have any stories about redistricting in your town, please send in a comment about it.

Your August 3 editorial on the city of Santa Fe’s redistricting plan is right on target. Instead of choosing a plan that was more mathematically accurate, that is, more fair, our city councilors instead took the opportunity to play petty political games.

Of course, this is nothing new. A similar scene is playing out in Rio Rancho, and no doubt in other cities around the state. Albuquerque chose to put off constitutionally mandated redistricting, apparently in hopes of changing the balance of power at the October election, and unfathomably a judge agreed to allow it.

Be sure that at the state level, it will be even uglier. Ten years ago, after numerous plans approved by the Democratic controlled legislature and numerous vetoes by the Republican governor, the courts were called in to decide the issue. The whole process cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

This is why good government organizations and concerned citizens have long been calling for multipartisan, independent redistricting commissions. Unfortunately, those in power cede nothing, and would rather have this authority so they can use it as an incumbent protection plan, or, worse, to punish members of their own bodies who don’t go along with the rest.

We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again in 2020 by mandating independent redistricting commissions. Anything less is like leaving the madmen in charge of the asylum.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

HB 332 and HJR 21- Redistricting

HB 332---Tomorrow morning in House Voters and Elections, a bill introduced by chair Mary Helen Garcia will be heard. HB 332 would create a redistricting commission with 18 members, all sitting legislators apointed by the leadership of the two chambers. It provides for the legislators to meet during the interrim and create plans which would then be approved during a special legislative session.

This is exactly the approach that we at Voting Matters have been arguing against for a number of years. Essentially, it is an incumbent protection plan that allows individual legislators and the major parties to preserve the stauts quo- the legislators on the commission will even be appointed in proportion to the current partisan makeup of the two houses.

Cal Mary Helen Garcia's office at 986-4341 and ask her why she thinks this system is fair to voters of NM, and who on the commission will represent the interests of over 200,000 voters not affiliated with either major party?

HJR 21--- Representative Tom Anderson has introduced a joint memorial which would permanently establish a bipartisan commission made up of 8 members, 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats. The members would be appointed by legislative leaders but not necessarily be legislators themselves.

While this is an improvement, it still neglects the views of 20% of New Mexico voters.

We are still waiting for a bill that would create a truly independent commission.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Voter Action Act

Two bills have been introduced that alter the state's public campaign financing system.

SB32, introduced by Sen Dede Feldman, makes a few minor alterations requested by the former Secretary of State. Unfortunately, it includes a provision that extends the period that the Secretary's office has to certify candidates and distribute funds to candidates.

This creates an enormous obstacle for candidates, who by law would be forbidden from spending any money for a ten day period. This is especially onerous for minor party candidates, as the ten day period includes the fourth of July holiday period.

Because of this defect, we have to oppose SB 32.

On the other hand, SB 294, introduced by Sen Eric Griego, does two important things. First, it expands the Voter Action Act to include all executive and legislative offices. And second, it addresses a key element of the legislation that was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court last year.

Using terribly flawed reasoning, the Supremes determined that the matching fund provision of Arizona's public campaign financing system "chilled" the free spending rights of nonparticipating candidates, because their spending could benefit participating candidates who would receive matching funds.

The new legislation eliminates matching funds based on nonparticipating candidates' spending, and replaces them with matching funds based on the participating candidates ability to raise private funds in small amounts (not more than $100 per contributor).

While we prefer the current system, it is better to alter it than to risk having the whole system thrown out in court. We support SB 294, which unfortunately as been sentenced to three committees, Senate Rules, Judiciary, and Finance.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

HM 7- Corporate personhood

Also introduced by Representative Egolf is a memorial expressing disagreement with the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. The memorial, which does not have the force of law, asks Congress to begin the process of a constitutional amendment to clarify that corporations are not persons, and are not entitled to constitutional protections granted to human beings.

We strongly encourage unanimous passage of this memorial, and hope that our Congressional delegation will make this a priority issue.

More informtion about the national move to overturn the doctrine often referred to as corporate personhood can be found at

HB 154- corporate campaign contributions

Representative Bran Egolf has introduced a bill that would forbid corporations registered in New Mexico from contributing to state, county or local elections. This would include both candidate and issue elections.

The bill has been assigned to House Consumer and Public Affairs and House Voters and Elections Committees. It should get a hearing next week.

We support ending unrestrained corporate influence in our elections, and urge the legislature to pass this bill.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

HJR 2: Term limits for legislators

State representative Kintigh has introduced a joint memorial which would limit legislators to 12 consecutive years in office in either house. Senators would be allowed 3 four year terms, and representatives 6 two year terms.

HJR 2, if passed by both houses, is a constitutional amendment and would go to the voters at the November 2012 election.

We support these limits, and encourage our legislators to pass this resolution and send it on to the voters. Our exectutive branch and county officeholders are currently limited to 2 four year terms. It makes sense to also put limits on how long legislators can be in office.

Friday, January 21, 2011

School Board Elections

Tuesday, February 1, school board elections will be held around the state. I encourage everyone to inform themselves on the candidates and get out and vote.

In Santa Fe, the election is a combination of two elections. Both the public school board and the community college will be voted on. This is the first time that this has been allowed under state law, and will save a significant amount of money.

Unfortunately, the only polling place for the community college board election will be at the county clerk's office, so if you want to vote on election day, you will have to go to your normal polling place and the clerk's office.

On the bright side, if you vote early (in person absentee), you can cast both ballots in one location. Early voting hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM. Early Voting ends Friday, January 28.

Information about polling places and a list of candiates can be found at the clerk's website,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Legislature starts today

This year's legislative session will be much different than those of the past eight years. We will have much more presence by the Republicans, who picked up eight seats in the state House, making the Democratic majority only 37-33. In addition, there will be a Republican Lieutenant Governor presiding over the Senate, and Republicans in the Governor and Secretary of State offices.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be publishing information about specific election related bills as they become introduced. We encourage all of you to contact key legislators (including your own) as these bills move forward. One key committee, House Voters and Elections, will have at least two new members this year.

As usual, for the most up to date info on bill locations, see

I met with the new Secretary of State, Dianna Duran, last week. As a former county clerk and state legislator, she has a very good understanding of election law. I am very encouraged that she took the time to discuss our issues, and am optimistic that she will be open to supporting an independent redistricting commission, clarifying political party requirements, and eliminating the straight party ballot option.

Enjoy the pomp and ceremony of opening week. The real work starts soon!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More Press on Ranked Choice

The following "My View" appeared in the Santa fe New Mexican on Saturday, January 8.

Ranked Choice Voting In Peril
by Rick Lass

In March, 2008, Santa Fe voters approved seven amendments to our city charter, including provisions for public campaign financing and ranked choice voting. At the time, I was quoted in this newspaper as saying that winning the election was the easy part, and getting the city to make the change would be the sticking point.

Fortunately, the city council acted to codify a specific system for public campaign financing, and details will be fleshed out in time for the 2012 elections. Ranked choice voting, however, has not received the attention needed to ensure that it also will be implemented in 2012.

City administrators have apparently decided that ranked choice voting would be too much work, and point to an escape clause in the charter language that requires "equipment and software for tabulation of available at a reasonable price." But, over a year ago, in October 2009, there was a demonstration conducted showing how ballots could be tallied using existing equipment and software. Nevertheless, the city council opted to delay implementation of ranked choice voting.

Unfortunately, the fact that Santa Fe residents voted overwhelmingly to adopt ranked choice voting does not necessarily mean that the city government will take the steps to make it happen. If we want ranked choice voting in place for the March 2012 elections, we need to continue to campaign for it.

Three California cities, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro all conducted their first ranked ballot elections last month, with positive results. Specifically, Oakland would have elected a mayor who had the support of only 34% of voters, but after the runoff was conducted, instead elected a woman who received over 50% of the vote. Santa Fe deserves to have elected officials who have majority support.

I urge everyone interested in fair elections and responsive government to call upon the mayor and your councilors and tell them that it is their responsibility to make sure Santa Fe uses ranked choice voting in 2012. Further delays are unacceptable.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ranked Choice Voting in Santa Fe

The following artice appeared in this week's Santa Fe Reporter, and is a good summary of the status of Ranked Choice Voting in Santa Fe.

What’s the (Voting) Matter?
Alexa Schirtzinger

Rick Lass, director of the electoral-reform group Voting Matters, is tired of talking about ranked-choice voting. The system allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, which advocates say ensures candidates are elected by majority vote, and increases voter participation.

In 2008, Santa Fe voters approved a city charter amendment that called for ranked-choice voting as well as publicly funded campaigns—but neither has actually been implemented. (Santa Fe City Clerk Yolanda Vigil says a fund has been started for publicly financed campaigns but hasn’t yet been used.)

“I’m frustrated that I still have to work on this!” Lass, a former Green Party candidate for Public Regulation Commissioner, tells SFR. “Once you win an election, you should get to see your results.”

Lass says he’s been urging the City Council to pass an ordinance to allow ranked-choice voting, but to no avail—even though cities such as Oakland, Calif., have implemented it with success.

But Vigil says the city’s current voting machines are a problem. “The present equipment approved by the Secretary of State, the M100 Tabulator that we rent from the county, does not have the software capabilities to do ranked-choice voting,” Vigil says.

Lass, however, says the city could purchase other machines and approve them via city ordinance—if the political will were there. “We voted for it,” Lass says. “Now it’s incumbent on the City Council and the mayor to make it happen."