Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Vote Counting

SANTA FE – The counting is over. President Bush won the state by 6,000 votes. That’s a landslide compared to the 366 by which he lost four years ago. But it’s still less than a one-percent margin.
New Mexico was not the last state to finish counting. The presidential race was close enough that we were in the national spotlight because every vote counted and every vote had to be counted. Charges of election fraud here and nationally appear to be little more than partisan mischief, to put it politely.
Those charges came from both parties, depending on whether election officials were members of the other party or not. In New Mexico, the Republican Party accused Gov. Bill Richardson of conspiring with election officials to throw the state’s five electoral votes to John Kerry.
Gov. Richardson can and will be accused of many things in this election, but fraud is not one of them, unless the GOP comes up with some evidence. And they’d better do it quickly or they will have enough mud on their hands to detract from the focus on obvious Democrat shortcomings.
Bill Richardson will get most of the blame, and deservedly so. He was out front in the campaign for Sen. Kerry and should have had a better game plan, considering how well he handled his own campaign just two years ago.
By the end of New Mexico’s slow count, Richardson was frustrated enough that he lashed out at election officials of his own party and said reforms are needed. They are, but the new federal law establishing provisional ballots slowed the counting in every state this year.
Richardson appointed a bipartisan election reform task force last year, but it accomplished little because of partisan bickering. He might try again, but he’s running short of political capital and will have more pressing priorities soon.
The governor will be hurt considerably by this election. He threw himself into it, to the neglect of some pressing state needs. The great majority of all those people he registered to vote were hiding under rocks on election day. He is accused of concentrating too hard on urban areas and neglecting the rest of the state.
Sen. Kerry did very well in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but that was about it. Even rural areas in the north didn’t turn out the big Democrat majorities they usually do. And the Hispanic majorities for Kerry were pitifully slim, considering that is where Richardson was concentrating.
Other Democratic governors were not able to deliver their states, either. Richardson came close, so that won’t destroy him on the national stage. But a failure to deliver the Hispanic vote in his own state will seriously damage any claim that he can deliver those votes nationally.
Because of being out of state the week before the election, I didn’t get to make my prediction in print, but here’s what I told those who asked. For some reason, the polls locally and nationally did not show the aggressive Democrat voter registration campaigns producing any increase in polling numbers.
I suggested that many of the newly-registered voters would be harder for pollsters to contact but predicted that would be taken into account. Therefore, the polls showing President leading by around three percent were likely pretty accurate.
Somehow Sen. Kerry just didn’t strike the right note with voters. President Bush, despite all the jokes about him, did. The president’s campaign had a strong message and Republican strategists outorganized Democrats in nearly every state, including New Mexico.
The election and counting weren’t without some glitches. Dona Ana County had its usual problems and, again, was last getting in its certified results.
And U.S. Attorney David Iglesias says he and a voter-fraud task force he established this year received over 100 complaints, some of which will be investigated and likely prosecuted.
Iglesias, a former GOP candidate for state attorney general, provides voters with an assurance of a balance to Democrat Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron.


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