Sunday, February 10, 2008

It’s a Little Nuts

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The Democratic Party funded Presidential Caucus has produced no winner yet.

The race is so close that no clear victor has emerged; though it is apparent that the race is between U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.

Both visited New Mexico last week, along with powerful surrogates, including their respective spouses, former President Bill Cinton and Michelle Obama. In Clinton’s case, her adult child, Chelsea, also accompanied her on the campaign trail.

Four years ago, the State Democratic Party chose to move from the traditional June primary date to early February to become “more relevant” in the primary process. The June date is so late that the primary candidates have been eliminated, either by poor showing and the resultant lack of continued funding or one candidate has taken an insurmountable lead.

State Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón, had tried to downplay the expected turnout for the caucus, predicting that only as few as 40,000 of the over half million registered Democrats would vote.

“I have a lot of people mad at me,” Colón said, just after the 7 pm poll closing time Tuesday.

Despite snow in northern parts of the state, deep in some places, voting was reported as heavy. Some sites still had long lines at closing, as seen here, at Monte Vista Christian Church, in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque.

There were an estimated 300 people in line at 7 pm. State Democratic Headquarters dispatched a staffer with additional ballots to the church shortly after closing time. It wasn’t the only site that ran out of ballots.

It would take another two and a half hours for the nearly 2,000-person line at Rio Rancho’s sole voting facility to finish casting their ballots. Colón wasn’t upset with the idea that people were mad at his getting the prediction wrong. More than three times as many ballots were cast, some 142,000.

Though most polling places were reporting, according to a Party press release 17,246 provisional ballots need to be determined. Provisional ballots are issued to voters whose names do not appear on the registration rolls at the polls or they went to the wrong polling station. Before these ballots can be counted, the voter’s registration must be verified.

It seems that three ballot boxes went missing in Rio Arriba County and one in Sandoval County.

KRQE’s Weekend Anchor/Reporter Kim Vallez works at her laptop in front of a bank of television sets between live shot reports.

Colón told KOAT TV Political Reporter Matt Grubbs that he was concerned with possible disenfranchisement due to long lines. Some sites, like Rio Rancho, had lines outdoors in the sub-freezing and windy weather for more than two hours.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is a cup of nuts on the table where voters picked up their ballots. It is emblematic of how the process was working.

Fortunately, the ballot only had one item on it. Seven candidates’ names appeared on the ballot in the following order: Barack Obama; John Edwards; Christopher J. Dodd; Dennis J. Kucinich; Bill Richardson; Joe Biden; and Hillary Clinton. There was an additional place for the uncommitted, allowing for a write-in. Edwards, Dodd, Kucinich, Richardson, and Biden had previously withdrawn their candidacy, but remained on the ballot.

The party rules, here on the press table at State Democratic Headquarters, dictated that results could not be revealed until all voters completed casting their ballots.

At 9:30 pm, Colón started reporting results by counties, minus the provisional ballots.

My Take

There seems to be good reason why New Mexico Democrats wanted to move the caucus forward; the closeness of the vote is going to take a while to sort out. In the last couple of presidential elections, it has taken days to determine a full accounting of ballots here in our fine state.

The Democrats want a stake at the big table, they want to play the big money hand but can only ante up penny limits. The thinking is fine, be a part of a significant political decision. However, if the party can’t afford to properly fund the election, can’t rent enough buildings for polling places, can’t get enough volunteers to man those stations, then maybe, they should either just wait until the traditional June primary date or move the entire primary process to February.

Colón, wearing glasses, at the Bill Clinton Rally Jan. 31, at UNM’s Johnson Gym, is surrounded by three U.S. Secret Service Agents. He might wish to have them around the next time he faces a large gathering of Democrats.

The Democrats, by taking the process away from the primary, run by the Secretary of State and the County Clerks, raise questions of how well the process works.

There are other things that just looked weird.

Because this is a party run election, other activities were going on at the election places. Specifically, campaign workers were collecting signatures inside the building for other candidates in state and local races.

Normally campaigning is not allowed within 100 feet of a polling place. However, this was not a normal situation. The Party was parsing words and was wary of what they called electioneering versus campaigning. The difference seems to be that electioneering would be advocating of a person on the ballot, while campaigning was related to non current ballot political activity. When governments run the elections all political activity is banned within 100 feet of a polling place.

U.S. Congressional District 1 Democratic hopeful Michelle Lujan Grisham was in the parking lot collecting signatures when Democratic Party of Bernalillo County Ward 18B Chair Donald Schiff, who was the polling judge challenged her. He had a complaint of electioneering but upon recognizing her determined that she was campaigning.

New Mexico is not a winner take all state. There are 38 delegates to the National Convention, to be held in Denver this summer. The candidates that 26 of those delegates are required to support are decided through the caucus. The other 12 delegates are considered super delegates and are made up of elected and party leaders. The super delegates are free to decide to support whomever they wish.

The winner of the caucus is likely to have a one, maybe two vote lead among the 26 delegates.

New Mexico’s outcome seems to be becoming almost irrelevant, as the campaigns after Super Tuesday move on. Saturday, Obama picked up the states of Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana and is neck and neck with Clinton in the delegate count.

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