Finding a polling place. Waiting in line. Filling out a ballot. Most New Mexico voters don’t seem to have many complaints about that part of Election Day. But while a new survey has found plenty of confidence in the democratic process as it plays out at the polling place, it also found plenty of concerns about the sanctity of New Mexico’s elections, whether it is the specter of hackers, the influence of big-spending campaign donors or a news media that many view as biased.
Vote early and vote less often. At least, that is the hope behind a bill that was headed to the governor’s desk on Thursday to consolidate various local elections in New Mexico. Under a compromise hashed out between the Senate and House of Representatives during the last couple hours of this year’s 30-day legislative session, election day for most cities, towns and villages — including Santa Fe — would not change from the usual date in March. Conversely, the state’s largest city, Albuquerque, would have to move its elections for mayor and city council. The bipartisan legislation’s backers say the goal is to boost turnout in local elections that often draw little attention and relatively few voters.
A new report may shed some light on how New Mexico voters feel about campaign public financing and groups who raise money independently of candidates. It comes as ethics complaints related to Albuquerque’s election stack up and congressional and gubernatorial candidates fill their campaign accounts. The 2017 Campaign Finance Report released by the University of New Mexico shows most registered voters favor public financing and making public financing available to more candidates. The report also shows many New Mexicans disagree that independent expenditure groups should be able to raise and spend money unregulated as a form a free speech. The report from the political science department found 70 percent of voters would like public financing to be available for more elected offices.
Corruption has long been endemic to New Mexico government. And today, even when people ferret out potential problems or ethical lapses, there’s still a significant gap between the laws meant to protect people and the ability or willingness of state agencies to enforce them. In January, for example, conservation groups wrote to the state purchasing agent and director, asking him to look into a political donation from a company with a lucrative state contract. The company had contributed $1,000 to Gov. Susana Martinez’s political action committee during a time when the state’s Procurement Code prohibits political contributions, when proposals are being evaluated for the awarding of contracts. Months passed, and the activists didn’t hear back from the state purchasing agent or from the agency that had issued the contract, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC).
After her first week in office, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is ready to get to work revamping the state election code. She said while there are a number of things she wants to focus on, her office might have to get creative financially. “We have a lot to do and we’re not fully funded to do it,” Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report. Since former secretary Dianna Duran left office last year, there hasn’t been a lot of movement in terms of rule changes or reforms from the secretary’s office. Toulouse Oliver has long said she would work towards improving the state’s campaign finance rules if she were elected.
The New Mexico Legislature has been diverting money from a public election fund for years, contrary to the wording of the law that established the fund. Some have blamed the budget situation for the recent necessity for an emergency grant to replenish the fund, but the situation dates back years. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Brad Winter sent letters to candidates who opted for public financing to inform them that their public financing would be reduced, citing the “current economic climate” and a negative budget. New Mexico’s limited public finance law—it only applies to Public Regulation Commission and judicial candidates—allows for a reduction in disbursements if there is a shortfall. While the economy may have been to blame for a negative overall budget, a closer look revealed that the New Mexico legislature used funds designated for public financing to pad general election funds—and Gov. Susana Martinez approved this.