Sunday, February 21, 2016

Legislature Ends Without Passing Election Reforms

As expected, the legislature did virtually nothing this session to advance the cause of fair elections and voter participation. In spite of several Resolutions being introduced which would create independent redistricting commissions, automatically register voters, and mandate open primary elections, the legislature failed to act.

Likewise, bills and resolutions to create a state ethics commission and a full time legislature went down in flames. Apparently, legislators don't care that their constituents faith in government is at an all time low. Nor do they want to seriously address the fact that the 2014 election cycle saw the lowest voter participation rate since the Second World War.

The only demographic that seems to have benefited this session were those born between June and November, 2000. They will now be allowed to vote in the June 2018 primary elections, even though they will only be 17 at the time (if they register to vote in a major political party 28 days or more before the primary).

There's always next session...

Friday, January 29, 2016

2016 NM Legislature

Well, here we are again.

The New Mexico State Legislature began its "short session" last week. In spite of historically low voter participation rates, continuing corruption at the highest levels of state government, and if possible, increased levels of vitriol and hatred between the two major parties in the state, election reforms and government accountability are not issues that are taking center stage this year.

The governor more or less controls the agenda, so it is necessary to sneak good ideas into the discussion via resolutions and memorials.

A quick look at the agenda of the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee (see last year's post on how this committee came to be) reveals that a few important ideas will at least get hearings. All of the following are proposed Constitutional Amendments, meaning that if passed, they will go to the voters in November.

HJR1 proposes to institute an independent redistricting commission, an idea Voting Matters has supported for over a decade.

HJR2 calls for universal registration of all qualified voters, which would eliminate one impediment to voter participation.

HJR3 would create a full-time, salaried legislature, as every other state now has.

HJR5 would establish an independent ethics commission to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by elected officials.

HJR12 would open the primaries to all voters, not just those registered in the major parties.

Time will tell if any of these ideas actually make it through the convoluted committee process for consideration on the floor.

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:

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

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.