Thursday, May 19, 2016

From the One and Only Blue Moon Bar:
Your Choice for County Clerk
Maria Rodriguez, Republican
Scott Krahling, Democrat
County clerks buy the voting machines, they designate polling places and election day staff, they keep voter registration files, and count the votes, and in all of this there is a lot of room for mischief.  Heather Wilson, running for the US Senate, went early on election day to a key precinct where she expected to get a big wad of votes.  Instead, they ran out of ballots in the first ten minutes, forcing voters to wait or come back later, and in other key Republican precincts where she needed to win big.  It was all fixed up in a couple of hours, apologies all around, but turnout in R precincts was not as high as expected.  Voter suppression?  Of course not.  There have also been cases in which the clerk drastically cut down the number of polling places and voters were forced to stand in line for hours.  Voter suppression?  Of course not.  You might also remember the scandals of missing money in the Secretary of State's office (this office monitors elections), indictments, and a recent jail sentence for a Secretary of State who had a gambling problem.  This is not just a New Mexico problem.  In Ohio, usually a key state in a presidential election, dozens of blatant voter suppression techniques almost certainly changed the outcome of a presidential election not that long ago.

I was hoping Maria Rodriguez would come packing a six-gun or Scott Krahling might challenge Maria to a game of pool with two shots of tequila on the line or at least a Blue-Moon Bar-appropriate exchange of obscenities:  No dice:  we got a polite civics lesson from each instead.

At a forum last night at the Blue Moon Bar, sponsored by the Southwest Organizing Project, the Democratic and Republican candidates for County Clerk presented their views to a crowd of about 20 voters who braved the hail and rain to attend.  

Krahling is the current Chief Deputy Clerk, in charge of elections.  He also served at a county commissioner from 2009 to 2012.  He exudes a calm, professional demeanor and seems sincere in his commitment to make voter registration and voting as easy as possible.  (Full disclosure:  Mr. Krahling was a graduate assistant of mine at NMSU a few years ago).  As an example, he cited the Oregon system, where citizens are automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver's license (they can opt out via mail if they want to) and similar systems in other states. 

Rodriguez was appointed Magistrate judge in Dona Ana County in 2004 by Bill Richardson, when Ann Segal resigned to take another job.  She filled out the unexpired term to the end of the year.  Richard Silva, elected in 2004, replaced her.  She also served as a paralegal in the US Attorney's Office in Las Cruces, and with two federal magistrate judges as well as the DEA and the federal public defender.  While Krahling emphasized providing more access to voting, Rodriguez stressed the need to make sure registration and voting procedures conform strictly to the letter of the law.

The different emphases are classic:  nationally and in New Mexico Democrats tend to benefit when voter turnout is high and registration is easy, since more New Mexicans identify with the Democratic Party, and Republicans benefit more when registration levels and turnouts are low.  In political circles in New Mexico there is a current debate about whether Hillary (if she secures the nomination) will increase or decrease Democratic voter turnout, in comparison with Donald Trump.

Hispanic citizens in New Mexico tend not to like Trump; they outnumber Anglos in New Mexico, and vastly outnumber Anglos in the Democratic Party.  This bodes badly for Trump.  On the other hand, Trump has generated unaccustomed enthusiasm in many states, raising turnout among Republicans.  In a close election, even minor shifts in voter turnout can swing an election, and there are dozens of mischievous ways the election machinery can affect turnout.

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