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

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