Inside the Capitol

Thursday, November 30, 2006

12-4 New Mexicans Can Be Proud of Turnout

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Once again, New Mexicans can be proud of their turnout for Election 2006.
Nationally, mid-term elections usually only draw about 39 percent of registered voters. That was the nationwide figure again this year, despite many more heated congressional elections across the country than usual.
The final official canvass of general election votes in New Mexico reveal we had a turnout of about 52 percent of registered voters. That was down slightly from the 53 percent four years ago and 57 percent eight years ago.
Voter turnout has generally declined in New Mexico and nationally. We tend to beat ourselves up about that declining trend but the truth may be that Americans suffer from voting fatigue. We have more elections than any other country.
Last week, Albuquerque tried to combine a municipal gross-receipts tax election with a school board election and learned that although state law allows it, our state constitution prohibits any election being combined with a school board election.
Another factor may be that we keep trying to expand the number of registered voters. All sorts of groups now conduct registration drives. We pass laws allowing people to register to vote when they renew their drivers license. Even my doctor set up a registration table in his office.
But it seems likely that people who register under such circumstances aren't as apt to vote as those who take positive action to register.
And we expand the number of eligible voters. Back in the '70s, we passed the 18-year-old vote, nationally. I was part of that effort, which had its roots here in New Mexico. But alas, the young folks have the poorest turnout of all.
Some dictatorships in this world have 99 percent turnouts. But we know how that is done and for some reason, they all vote for the incumbent. Some countries have tried fining people whose signatures don't show up on voting rolls.
But I prefer that our country be controlled by those who show up. The rest deal themselves out.
New Mexico's turnout also was noteworthy because we had only one close race and that affected only a third of the state. The other contests at the top of the ballot were landslides for the incumbent.
The highest number of votes in any statewide race is usually at the top of the ballot but this year it was the attorney general contest, which was the next to last statewide race on the ballot.
Our turnout might have been closer to the national average had not the political parties and some candidates had very strong get-out-the-vote efforts. Gov. Bill Richardson also had a well organized absentee ballot application drive.
Volunteers and paid staff knocked on doors of Democrats throughout the state with absentee ballot requests, which they filled out on the spot and delivered to the county clerk's office. All the voter had to do was to add a signature.
But once Democrats received their absentee ballots, they had to take the initiative to fill them out and return them. And that's where the process broke down.
Many ballots weren't returned and when those people went to the polls on election day, they were ineligible to cast a ballot. That is likely why so many provisional ballots were cast and why Democrat officials figured they would pick up a major share of the provisional ballots when they were counted.
All Democrats did gain from the provisional ballot count. Unfortunately for 1st Congressional District candidate Patricia Madrid, she gained fewer votes than other Democrat candidates, most of whom added one or two percent to their winning margins.
Republicans always have outperformed Democrats in early and absentee voting. Despite the major Democrat absentee voting drive, only 40 percent of the total vote was early or absentee, compared with 50 percent two years ago.
Democrats may do better to give up on that effort.
MON, 12-4-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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