WANTED: Elections Bosses
Who will be in charge Nov. 4?
By Marisa Demarco
The state's Bureau of Elections is without two key officials as Election Day closes in.
After a six-month stint as the administrator for the state's Bureau of Elections, Daniel Miera quit to take a position as town manager of Taos on July 1.
After a little more than a year as the director of the state's Bureau of Elections, Daniel Ivey-Soto resigned to pursue other career opportunities in March.
Neither position will be filled until August, about three months before Nov. 4, when New Mexicans will cast their ballots on one Senate and three House seats—and a charged presidential race in which New Mexico is a swing state. Add to that the notorious problems the state has with its elections.
"We don't expect for there to be any problems with the general election," says James Flores, the secretary of state’s spokesperson. "We didn't have any problems with this last election, and we had a new employee with Danny Miera."
Flores is talking about the June 3 primary, where the process in many counties ran smoothly. Three ballot boxes were discovered to be empty after the primary in Cibola County, where state Sen. David Ulibarri won over Clemente Sanchez by fewer than 10 votes. A mandatory recount should take place when elections are so close under New Mexico law.
The job descriptions for the administrator and the director at the bureau are pretty similar, Flores says—they oversee elections. Miera supervised the primary in June. Ivey-Soto's position also included the pursuit of voter and election-related measures in the state Legislature.
Francisco Trujillo, deputy secretary of state, has been acting as director in the interim. It's an appointed position, and Flores says Secretary of State Mary Herrera hopes to appoint someone on Aug. 1. Flores wouldn't say who is being considered.
The office stopped accepting applications for the administrator job Monday, June 30, and more than 70 came in. That job, too, should be filled by August, according to Flores.
Though Miera's been unavailable for comment for two weeks, Ivey-Soto, a lawyer, spoke to the Alibi about the state of elections in New Mexico. He was director of the bureau since Herrera's administration started in early 2007, and he and Herrera timed his exit for March of 2008, he says. They factored in how crucial this election year is, he adds. "Obviously, right in the middle of counting ballots is a really bad time to say, Oh, by the way, I'm taking another job," Ivey-Soto says.
But is there one crucial thing that is standing out that is holding us back from doing things the way we need to do? No, there is not
Daniel Ivey-Soto, former Bureau of Elections director
He'd been placed on the short list for judge by his colleagues, he says. It was the kind of career opportunity he had to consider, though he didn’t get the position. His choice to leave had nothing to do with New Mexico’s elections being criticized, he says.
There are definitely some steps that need to be taken for New Mexico to improve its elections system, he says, and one of them is the quantity of elections held. Elections should be consolidated, meaning fewer special election days for minor offices, to improve turnout. "But is there one crucial thing that is standing out that is holding us back from doing things the way we need to do? No, there is not."
Why on the morning after an election does New Mexico not usually have its votes tallied yet? The main problem in the past hasn't been with the whole state, he says, but with Bernalillo County. (Secretary of State Herrera was the clerk in Bernalillo County from 2001 through 2006). Late results have been a perpetual problem, Ivey-Soto adds, but some of the changes County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver has made have helped the process. "In this last primary election, we ended up getting election results much quicker than we normally would have," he says.
As for missing paper ballots in Cibola County, Ivey-Soto says he doesn't believe they're missing at all. "They were not where they were supposed to be, and they ended up getting reported as missing," he says. The county clerk opted to wait until a judge could be present to look for the ballots, he says, to avoid suspicion. The status of those ballots should be revealed soon.
"When you're training over 1,000 people for a one-day job where they're working for over 12 hours and only getting paid $125, as much as these people want to do the right thing, you're going to have isolated incidents of people not understanding or listening correctly," Ivey-Soto says. "It's just human nature."
Training election workers is difficult, he says, and that could be part of the problem. Each precinct has a polling place on election day, and an enormous amount of money is spent to set them up. Bernalillo County has more than 400 precincts. Even when two precincts are using the same polling location, each requires a precinct judge, two elections judges and two clerks.
That's the case even though 30 percent of the voters cast their ballots early and another 30 percent vote by absentee ballot. "So we're spending 80 percent of our resources for 40 percent of the voters." Ivey-Soto says moving the whole system to voting centers—say every single high school gymnasium—would begin to simplify the situation. Each would have a staff person who knows what's going on and deals with the issues regularly.
County clerks in the state are working to improve elections in New Mexico, he says. "Although the secretary of state is the chief elections officer for the state, elections are actually administered at the county level," Ivey-Soto says. "The procedures that are being used now to make sure those ballots are being counted in a certifiable way are improving elections overall."
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