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.