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11/8: New Mexico, Border Election Highlights and Hassles
Released 09 November 2012  By Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news

11/8: New Mexico, Border Election Highlights and Hassles

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news

Like the majority of U.S. voters, New Mexicans handed President Barack Obama another four-year term this week and returned control of the Senate to the Democrats, with the victory of Democrat Martin Heinrich over former Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson in the New Mexico race helping seal the national deal.

Nonetheless, the composition of the state’s House delegation remained unchanged, staying at two Democrats and one Republican, though Albuquerque’s Michelle Lujan Grisham will be the new Democratic face on Capitol Hill. The GOP’s Steve Pearce will go back to Washington as the representative of more conservative south-central and eastern New Mexico after handily defeating Democratic challenger Evelyn Madrid Erhard of Las Cruces.

A smattering of voting problems surfaced on election day, especially long wait times that exceeded two hours or more in some places. Long voter lines in the GOP stronghold of Rio Rancho outside Albuquerque, home of a big Intel manufacturing plant, prompted a visit by Republican Governor Susana Martinez, while lengthy wait times were also reported at the University of New Mexico and Van Buren Middle School, a Duke City voting site located in a heavily working-class and immigrant neighborhood, among several places.

Oriana Sandoval, executive director of the non-profit organization New Mexico Vote Matters, said finger-pointing followed the Rio Rancho voting hold-up, making it unclear whether problems over staffing and election equipment were the fault of the Sandoval County Clerk or the New Mexico Secretary of State. “They way underestimated the turn-out,” Sandoval said in a phone interview with FNS. “I’m not sure where the blame lays.”

In most places, Sandoval judged the election process as generally “fantastic,” but said she did get a call from a predominantly Spanish-speaking voter in Albuquerque who complained about not being listed on the voter rolls when she went to vote and being improperly asked for identification and a Social Security number.

“Basically, they gave her a provisional ballot and she was upset,” Sandoval said.

In southern New Mexico, the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) denounced long waits and alleged denials of translation services at a fire station voting site in Chaparral, a large unincorporated community that overlaps Dona Ana and Otero counties in New Mexico and El Paso County across the state line in Texas.

Teresa Nevarez, director of the BNHR’s center in Anthony, New Mexico, said she showed up at the Chaparral fire station at about 6:30 pm on election night to find the place “swamped with people” and not enough poll workers to handle the crowd.

An offer from the BNHR to help with legally-guaranteed voter translation assistance was denied by a poll worker who consulted with an on-site election judge, Nevarez told FNS. She blasted the scene as an “outrage” for Chaparral, where many people speak Spanish- a language with an older history in New Mexico than English.

“It’s intolerable that things like this are going on in heavily Hispanic areas and Otero County,” Nevarez contended, adding that she did not hear of similar voting troubles in Dona Ana County.

Chaparral voter Illiana Macias told FNS she showed up at the site at 5:30 pm and waited until 9:30 pm to vote. Her husband missed class because of the delay, she said.

“People were starting to leave left and right,” the young woman said, recalling that she tried to convince people to stay in line until provisional ballots came. She estimated 100-200 people who were unable to vote quickly got frustrated and left. The Chaparral resident said it took her 10-15 minutes to vote four years ago, but didn’t understand why it took four hours to vote this year.

Macias said she observed unused voting booths, and was told by an unidentified woman to stop videotaping the scene and handing out cards the voter made with a 1-800 number to report election problems. Seconding Nevarez, Macias charged that no poll workers were translating for Spanish speakers or allowing others the opportunity to do so.

Apparently confused about where to vote after driving around Otero County, one family eventually left because “nobody was there to translate for them,” according to Macias. “I just want this exposed,” Macias said. “I stayed in line until I got my vote. I wish everybody else would have had this opportunity.”

Reached late on election night, Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellis attributed some of the Chaparral problems to people trying to vote in a county in which they were not registered. He said his office was helping the Otero County Clerk’s Office by sending envelopes to Chaparral so provisional ballots could be collected.

Spanning three counties and two states, Chaparral is a relatively isolated, rural community where boundaries are nebulous.

In a phone interview with FNS, Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes said that 24 provisional ballots which were collected at the Chaparral fire station would be counted on November 7 and 8. Holmes said the voting delay at the Chaparral fire station, which didn’t conclude until 11 pm- four hours after the line was officially cut-off -was due to overwhelming voter interest and the inclusion of constitutional amendments and bond proposals that take extra time to read through and understand.

“(Voters) turned out in droves,” Holmes said. “We haven’t had so many people turn out in a while…we had a great voter turn-out. I’m so glad people got out to vote.”

Otero County’s chief election official said 57 percent of the 33,400 voters registered in her county turned out. Long election day lines were a statewide problem, Holmes said, mentioning the governor’s appearance in Rio Rancho where voters were given pizza and water to hold them over until they reached the ballot box.

In terms of avoiding future voting hang-ups in Chaparral, Holmes said “it happens every time” in the sprawling community.

“I really don’t know what the solution would be,” she said, adding that letters were sent from her office telling all registered voters precisely where they should cast their ballots.

“We try to get (correct information) to each of these voting individuals…at a certain point, these individuals have to take responsibility.”

To the best of her knowledge, the Chaparral fire station had Spanish-speaking poll workers and nobody was denied translation services, Holmes said.

The BNHR’s Teresa Nevarez said her group was discussing whether to file a complaint with New Mexico Secretary of State Diana Duran over the Chaparral situation.

Active on immigration and border security issues, the BNHR engaged in a get-out-the-vote campaign in the southern New Mexico and El Paso areas this year. According to Cristina Parker, BNHR communications director, the group made more than 6,000 phone calls, knocked on 2,300 doors, registered 50 new voters and helped 150 people in the citizenship process in southern New Mexico alone.

Oriana Sandoval added that New Mexico Vote Matters got 17,000 voters on the 2012 rolls. And the number might have been higher if English-language voter registration forms available to third-party organizations had not run out in July-almost three months before the New Mexico voter registration deadline, according to Sandoval.

Sandoval praised the early voting process, and credited the Dona Ana and Bernalillo county clerks’ offices for “tremendous support” in encouraging voter involvement. The activist said her group is discussing whether to continue after the election. “There are tons of civic engagement to do year round,” Sandoval said. “If you want to be more effective, you can’t do it on a four-year cycle.”

Back in the key New Mexico political races, the State Senate and House retained Democratic majorities, but longtime politician, rancher and Senate President Pro-Tem Tim Jennings, a prime political target of Governor Martinez’s camp, lost his conservative Roswell area district to Republican opponent Cliff Pirtle, a 27-year-old farmer. Another Martinez adversary, State Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia from Dona Ana County, also went down in defeat.

On the other hand, a onetime Martinez ally in the contentious driver’s licenses for undocumented persons battle, farmer and State Rep Andy Nunez of Hatch, lost his seat to LULAC activist and Democrat Phillip Archuleta. A former Democrat, Nunez left the party and became an independent after he sponsored legislation that would bar undocumented immigrants from getting state driver’s licenses. Despite Nunez’s role in the ongoing driver’s licenses fray, Governor Martinez reportedly backed the Republican candidate in the three-way race that Archuleta won.

An Albuquerque ballot initiative raising the local minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour by January 1, 2013, passed by nearly a 2-1 margin; the measure also provides for graduated increases in the minimum wage paid to tipped workers.

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