Last month, we announced in these pages that we were partnering this election season with one of the nation’s biggest and most respected voter-awareness organizations, Project Vote Smart [News Bite, “Vote Smart,” July 13-19].
A nonpartisan group, Project Vote Smart’s mission is to provide the public with a wealth of information on elected officials and political candidates—biographies, issue positions, campaign finances and so on. One of their more valuable services is the National Political Awareness Test (NPAT), which they send to all state legislative, gubernatorial and congressional candidates every election cycle. Candidates hopefully answer the test, which has questions ranging from positions on immigration to reproductive health to national defense and so on. The goal behind asking candidates to answer the test is to find out where they really stand on issues they will most likely face if elected.
Last week, the results for New Mexico candidates rolled on in and are, to be euphemistic, disappointing. With a mere 38 percent of congressional candidates, 16 percent of state legislative candidates and neither of the gubernatorial candidates answering the test, New Mexico is left largely in the lurch when it comes to understanding our candidates’ positions.
According to Rachel Pagliocca, spokesperson for Project Vote Smart, the response in New Mexico has been low in recent years. It reached a high in 1996, when 83 percent of all congressional candidates responded to the NPAT. By 2004, only 33 percent answered. Pagliocca says all candidates were well-aware of the test and were contacted multiple times by the organization. She adds that in other states, some candidates who chose not to answer the test told the organization that leaders of major parties encouraged candidates not to respond, as it might limit their ability to craft campaign messages and would expose them to oppositional research.
Matt Farrauto, executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, says the party doesn’t have a position on the NPAT and hasn’t told candidates whether or not to answer it. Offering a reason as to why so many candidates didn’t answer the test, Farrauto says candidates are inundated with questionnaires around election time and are choosey about which ones they answer, as some campaigns use them to “bludgeon their opponents.”
Marta Kramer, executive director of the Republican Party of New Mexico, agrees with these sentiments, adding that Project Vote Smart might not carry a high enough profile in New Mexico, and candidates may instead devote their time to answering questionnaires from interest groups.
Neither Gov. Bill Richardson nor his contender in this year’s gubernatorial race, John Dendahl, answered the NPAT. Gov. Richardson’s campaign was not able to respond by press time, but Kelly Ward, campaign manager for Dendahl, gives an explanation as to why the test wasn’t answered: “It was a matter of time constraint,” he says. “We got into the campaign at a late hour. A number of groups ask for questionnaires to be filled out, and there are other activities—traveling around the state, giving speaking appearances—we have to prioritize. [The NPAT] looked like it would take several hours to make your way through, so it went to the bottom of the pile.”
To get NPAT results, call 1-888-VOTE-SMART or visit www.vote-smart.org.