Breaking down the caucus fracas breakdown

Nearly a week after the Democratic Party-run presidential caucus was supposed to be over, it isn't. As of press time, US Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, leads Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., by 1,123 votes out of approximately 154,000 cast.


Party officials blame 17,276 so-called provisional ballots for the delay, but that's not the whole story. Here's what went wrong and what may be to come:

Getting the word out

Because New Mexico's caucus was run by the Democratic Party, not state or county officials, the protocol differed from normal elections: different hours of voting and consolidated polling places. Party Chairman Brian Colón acknowledges voter education was minimal.

"I think not planning was a problem," Denise Lamb, deputy county clerk for Santa Fe County, says. In fact, Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza issued a press release following the caucus clarifying that county clerks were not in charge. Lamb notes her office even received calls from registered Greens and Independents asking where to vote.

To this, Colón says, "It's a Democratic caucus and if you didn't get the first word, it said, 'Democratic' caucus."

You can vote-but where?

Even folks who understood the caucus was just for Dems had trouble. Finding out where to vote required knowing or finding your precinct number and then cross-referencing that with the Dems' list of consolidated polling places, only published on its Web site and in some media outlets (including SFR).

Lisa Clark, a DJ and national sales manager for KBAC 98.1 FM, usually votes at Agua Fria Elementary School. But for Feb. 5, her polling place was 15 miles away in La Cienega. She found transportation, but worries others couldn't.

"My concern is: Did it disenfranchise a specific socio-economic group?" an annoyed Clark asks. "This was an important election. It just seems wrong."

Surprise turnout?

Couple that confusion with the high turnout. The Associated Press reported Colón's projection that 30,000 to 40,000 voters would turn out on Feb. 5-less than half the voter turnout for the 2004 caucus.

But Colón says prior to Gov. Bill Richardson dropping out of the race, the other candidates weren't campaigning here. Then, 10 days before the election, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama "lit the state on fire and got everybody out to the polls in a way that no one predicted. I couldn't be more thrilled to be wrong."

The party printed 140,000 ballots, but was still short, and in some polling places voters stood in line for hours.

But it was the provisional voters that threw the party for a loop, Colón says.

Counting the provisionals

Qualifying the provisional voters (those who got to vote, even though their names weren't on the precinct sheets where they voted) is now the name of the game. As of press time, Dems say they've checked more than 15,000 provisional ballots and qualified more than 5,400 voters as legitimate. Feb. 15 is the deadline for Dems to have a final result.

Then it's about the super delegates

If the results remain close between Obama and Clinton, voters can expect delegates to be meted our fairly evenly. But more than half of New Mexico's 12 super delegates-ranking Democratic officials who can vote however they want-are expected to back Clinton; only one super delegate has committed to Obama.

Bye-bye caucus?

Gov. Bill Richardson pushed for the early caucus in '04, arguing it would make New Mexico more of a player in the national race.

While some are arguing for returning the primary to its original June date (when it will be part of the state- and county-run election cycle), Colón defends voting early.

"You have to admit this is absolutely the exception," Colón says. "You can't play your game based on exceptions. I'm still not convinced the June primary states will have a voice. Things could still break one way or another."