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A Successful Campaign in New Mexico
by Bob Stearns

The campaign for the voter-verifiable paper ballot began in the spring of 2003 when the Democrat Action Group of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party was alerted to the issue by two of its members. A DAG delegation met with a top official of the Secretary of State’s office who categorically denied there was any problem, a stance that Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron has pursued from then on.

More activists joined in the fight and the group organized as VerifiedVotingNM in early 2004. VVNM held a news conference during the last days of the 2004 State Legislative session to call public attention to the issue.

Through the year VVNM continued its consciousness-raising efforts, with speakers at the ACLU and other venues, many letters to the editor, and the urging of publications to run full feature articles on the issue. In the November presidential election in NM, numerous electronic machine and other electoral problems occurred and the presidential candidates of the Green and Libertarian Parties applied for a recount, with the support of the national organization, Help America Recount.

Governor Bill Richardson and the Secretary of State threw up roadblocks and demanded excessive up-front financial deposits that ended the possibility of a recount. Recount supporters then joined VVNM in an all-out effort to win passage by the 2005 State Legislature of a new law mandating voter verifiable paper ballots and automatic audits of election results.

VVNM urged Governor Richardson to endorse the voter verifiable paper ballot issue. He announced that he would push for a state law mandating “verifiable paper trails,” but omitted the crucial “voter verifiable” part. A separate group from Albuquerque, NM Democratic Friends, came up with a proposed bill of its own covering the VVPB and other electoral reforms.

Help America Recount, led by Holly Jacobson, proposed holding an attention-getting news conference at the Capitol Rotunda on February 23 with the legislature in session. At VVNM’s suggestion, an umbrella group called United Voters of NM was established to stage the event and carry out the campaign. UVoteNM set up an internet operation which ran a website and an e-mail list for posting action bulletins and legislative progress reports.

Lawmakers introduced several bills for election reform, including one crafted by a UVoteNM activist in concert with a supportive lawmaker in the House. UVoteNM decided to try to change the Governor’s bill to include VVPB and automatic audits of election results, and NM Democratic Friends went along when it was clear their bill had small chance of success.

An ongoing cadre of activists with the time to do so went to the legislature on every day when substantive action was expected, conferred together and also with key sponsoring legislators and the Secretary of State’s staff on strategy, and provided amendment phrasing for bill writing, with the invaluable counsel of lawyer Lowell Finley, Ellen Theisen and Warren Stewart, all Help America Recount volunteers from out of state. Other activists made time in their busy schedules to show public support and testify at important legislative committee hearings, and many more responded to UVoteNM action bulletins by contacting their own and key lawmakers at critical times. Members of the on-the-spot cadre turned out for the pivotal votes taken in committee and on the floor, sometimes after midnight and despite long waiting periods and postponements of action.

As a safeguard UVoteNM worked with Senators on an alternative measure to the Governor’s bill in the House. The bill sponsored by NM Democratic Friends failed to gain backing and UVoteNM’s Senate bill moved ahead of the Governor’s House bill on the bill-passing agenda in the last week of the session. In legislative deliberation, Republicans as well as Democrats supported VVPB and Automatic Audits, but in the decisive tallies, voted against the bill because of opposition to its Voter ID provisions, which they saw as weak.

The Senate bill passed both houses on the penultimate day of the session and went to the Governor, who signed it into law on April 6.

Never doubt that a small group
of thoughtful, committed citizens
can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead

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