Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

2-8 Running Elections No Job For Amateurs

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Perhaps the New Mexico Democratic Party should leave the business of running elections to the pros. There were enough snafus in last Tuesday's so-called caucuses to discourage any thought of another do-it-yourself effort.
Normally, getting into the presidential candidate selection process early isn't a bad idea. It usually gives party members a much greater say in the selection of their presidential nominee. It attracts candidates to our state and brings New Mexico some national visibility.
But when the process results in angering party members because of poor planning, the effort can be counterproductive. Some polling sites reported as much as a three hour wait to vote and the counting took more than a day.
The problem was that Democrats, especially in the northern and central parts of the state, turned out in much greater numbers than anyone had expected.
Four years ago, when Democrats ran their first caucuses, Gov. Bill Richardson spent considerable effort turning out a big crowd. He wanted to position New Mexico among the early voting states in order to have more influence over the candidates and to have a little practice before he ran for president four years later.
But four years later, Richardson no longer was in the running, so he no longer was working at turning out a crowd. Predictions from state Democratic chairman Brian Colon were that the turnout would be far lower than the 102,000 in 2004. But it turned out to be much higher and caused all sorts of problems.
The major disadvantage in switching from the established voting date, the first Tuesday in June, is that the party has to run its own caucus. That not only is a headache but is expensive. Estimates are around $250,000.
The state GOP chose both times to stick with the June date, thereby saving a quarter-million bucks to use on general election races in the state. The downside of that decision is that your party's candidate likely would be decided months earlier.
But that didn't happen this time. Three Republican candidates remain in the race and all vow they are not getting out. It is possible state Republicans could end up playing a role in selecting the GOP presidential candidate.
New Mexico Democrats decided to run their caucus like an election, with polling places open from noon to 7 p.m. throughout the state. Had they chosen to hold caucuses, in which people come to a meeting, listen to speeches and then vote, a larger turnout than expected wouldn't have been a major problem.
So why doesn't the Legislature change the state law to move primary elections from June up to February? The problem is that lawmakers also run in primary elections and they are busy making laws in Santa Fe at the time. June is much more convenient for them.
If New Mexico had a full time Legislature as many states have, the date wouldn't be as important. Lawmakers would just recess for awhile during election time, as Congress does for November elections.
Although this year's presidential caucus was a headache for Democrats, it did create excitement. Both candidates and their spouses made separate appearances in the state in the final four days.
Actually former President Bill Clinton made two trips to the state, the second one to watch the Super Bowl with Gov. Bill Richardson. It didn't get Hillary an endorsement from our governor but it likely sent a message to some voters.
In the final days of the Super Tuesday campaign, we got an insight into why Sen. Barack Obama chose to come to New Mexico instead of some of the bigger states he skipped. His strategy was to concentrate on small states with caucuses because he could get closer to those voters.
For New Mexicans, the nicest thing about the frantic two weeks before the Democrat caucus was that neither candidate went negative. If all campaigns could be like that, we might have even more people getting turned onto politics.
FRI, 2-08-08

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



Post a Comment

<< Home