Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Should New Mexico Return to a Democratic Primary?

My wife Antoinette and I arrived at our polling place, Sweeney Elementary School at about 5:20 pm on Super Tuesday to cast our vote in the Democratic Caucus. As we walked into the door one of the poll workers walked up to me and said "we may need your help, we ran out of ballots and people are getting angry" I began to survey the crowd and see just what I was walking into when a young woman walked in with more ballots. Apparently there was about a 20- 30 minute wait while more ballots were obtained. The lines were long but seemed to begin moving quickly once the ballots arrived. My wife and I got into line and then my son called to say that his truck broke down and he was along side the road. My wife and I left the line and went to go help him.

The three of us returned to the school at about 6:40 about 20 minutes before the 7 pm deadline to vote. Lines were still long but moving relatively quickly. My wife and I had no trouble voting on the old fashion paper ballot. My son was missing from the voter lists and he was forced to file a provisional ballot. We all left about 7:20 and there was still a small line of voters waiting to cast their ballot.

I could not help but wonder what it would be like for all the 22 Santa Fe polling places and the 184 polling places across New Mexico to count and recount these paper ballots. I also could not help but think about all the brand new ballot machines in storage in cities and counties all across this state. They are sitting idle because in 2003 New Mexico decided to have a democratic party run caucus rather than a State run June Primary as was the case in previous years.

After a push by Governor Richardson a state law was passed in 2003 allowing parties to opt out of the primary election and hold their own presidential "caucuses," giving the party control over the date separate from the primary set by law. Governor Richardson and the Democratic party wanted the early February caucus and the Democratic State Central Committee went along with the idea. In the 2004 Presidential Elections New Mexico benefited from a lot of attention brought to our state by the candidates. Now there are 22 states, many larger with many more delegates who now have their elections on super Tuesday along with New Mexico. We no longer stand out and now are just one of the many.

Meanwhile we have given up the opportunity for a professionally run election with modern voting machines which can give near instant vote totals immediately after the polls close. I fully support the democratic party however I do believe elections should be run by county clerks and the Secretary of State. In todays day and age to not walk into a polling place and easily and quickly vote in a modern machine and not have to wait days for meaning full results is not too much to ask for.

It is now 12:44 am and I am watching the sporadic results being posted in between Conan O'Briens interviews and a late night performance by Sheryl Crow. There are 19 counties out of 22 reporting and Obama is ahead by 218 votes. The counting will continue in the counties which have not yet reported however there are almost 17,000 provisional ballots which will not even begin to be counted until later in the day on Wednesday. The election is so close that those ballots will really matter. This election will not be over and final until late Wednesday or Thursday.

Many polling places across the state ran out of ballots just like mine did. In Rio Rancho there was one polling place for what is one of the largest cities in the state. Voters waited up to 3 hours to vote and police had to be called to assist with disgruntled voters. Voters across the state faced long lines and long waits to vote in consolidated precincts. If the County Clerks or the Secretary of State ran elections that turned out like this they would face a hard re-election. I don't blame the democratic party they are not equipped or financed to handle statewide elections. The good thing is that more and more people are voting. We had record numbers in 2004 and It looks like 2008 will break those records. We can not afford to lose the momentum of excited voters getting to the polls. Many disappointed voters headed home and gave up on casting ballots. Will they return in November? Or will they give up on casting their votes? Not to mention that workers were not given time to go vote since this election was not a state run election. How many more would have voted had they had the hour off to go vote? How many voters thought voting was from 7am to 7 pm as it normally is rather than the noon to 7 pm as the Democratically run caucus was? How many showed up at 7 or 8 am and then never returned?

The Democratic Party needs to seriously take a look at the pro's and cons of the February caucus vs the June Primary. I feel the time has come to go back to a state run primary.

1 comment:

barb said...

Regular elections are now all paper ballots but they are counted by optical scanners.

I agree it's better for the state to handle the primary but why not do the legislative work needed to move up our primary instead of going back to the June date? I have very much enjoyed the candidate visits and attention our state has gotten with an earlier primary.

Of course the real solution to our nominating system is to have regional primaries where the first in the nation region is rotated. This would give most Americans a chance to vote for a presidential nominee while providing a reasonable pace for candidates. I think everyone except Iowans and New Hampshirites are tired of having those two states having so much power in the process.