Democrats supporting the Green Party candidate for the Public Regulation Commission’s 3rd District seat plan to spend the last two weeks before the election explaining to voters a basic procedure:
To vote straight Democratic Party on the ballot, except in the PRC race
Check “Straight Democratic Party” and then vote for Rick Lass further down the ballot.
It’s an instruction so simple, it’s confusing—not just to voters but to county election officials as well. And it’s just one piece of the ever snowballing mess that is the PRC race between Lass and beleaguered Democrat Jerome Block Jr.
Posing as local voters on Oct. 20, SFR called the clerks’ offices in all of the 13 counties in the district for instructions on this procedure. Four counties—Bernalillo, Colfax, Guadalupe and DeBaca—told SFR voters can’t vote straight party and vote for a candidate in a different party.
“You have to color in every circle,” the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office said. “Straight party is straight party, period.”
“If you do the straight-party ticket vote, it will pick up every Democrat,” the DeBaca Clerk’s office said. “If you want to change one, you have to literally go through and check every box.”
In a phone interview, Secretary of State Mary Herrera could not explain why these offices were delivering inconsistent and false information to voters.
“If anybody wants to vote the Republican Party [ticket] and then they want to go down and they want to vote for [Democrat Tom] Udall, it should count when the ballot goes into the optical scan,” Herrera says.
Although she has not yet visited Bernalillo County, Herrera says she has overseen poll worker training in Colfax, DeBaca and Guadalupe counties, at which clerks explained the process properly to the precinct judges.
“I don’t know about Colfax, DeBaca and Guadalupe—all of that’s being trained,” Herrera says. “I’ll make sure that we follow up with those three counties.”
Lass beat her to it.
Shortly after learning of SFR’s findings, Lass sent a letter to Herrera’s office and each clerk’s office in the district demanding precinct judges and election workers be re-schooled on the process.
“A failure to convey these instructions accurately has implications for every candidate on the ballot and could alter citizens’ voting choices and the outcome of this election,” Lass writes.
In his letter, Lass refers to an Oct. 16 memo Herrera sent to clerks regarding this issue. Herrera tells SFR there was no such memo.
New Mexico voters also will start receiving e-mails and mailers on this issue—with a diagram—as the independent political committee Democrats for Rick Lass begins its last push.
“We knew [misinformation] was going to be something that we would have to contend with,” the committee’s chairman, Bernie Logue Y Perea, tells SFR. “That was part of our plan already.”
The Public Action Committee’s plan also includes a YouTube video, expected to be produced by local political humorist and noted YouTube contributor Jim Terr. Democrats for Lass has raised at least $7,000 so far from more than 30 contributors, according to the group’s most recent campaign finance reports.
But that $7,000 may kick up a whole ’nother dust cloud of good ol’ Santa Fe confusion.
On Oct. 17, the Secretary of State’s Office ordered Block to pay $11,000 in fines and refund $10,000 of his public campaign money after violating several provisions of the state’s Voter Action Act, including lying on campaign finance reports and spending the money on non-campaign-related expenses.
Block did not address the fine or other allegations of wrongdoing at the highly-anticipated Oct. 21 Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce forum—the only public appearance with his opponent Block agreed to during the campaign.
Block has 10 days to respond to the Secretary of State. In the meantime, Block believes the Secretary of State owes him more money. And, for once, his opponent agrees with him.
Under the Voter Action Act, candidates for PRC are eligible for complete public funding for their campaigns. Block and Lass were each given more than $64,000 in public money to run their general election campaigns.
But now, Democrats for Rick Lass’ funds mean that spending in the race is no longer even, as the law intended. If this race were held under Arizona’s public financing system, Block would receive “matching funds” to make up the difference.
New Mexico’s law also has a “matching funds” provision but, because of a vagueness in the wording, the Secretary of State’s Office has decided Block is not yet eligible for matching funds.
According to newly hired Bureau of Elections Director Gerald Gonzales, the Secretary of State’s Office will not issue funds to Block until Lass and Democrats for Rick Lass together spend more than Block was given in total—a feat unlikely to come to light until the next campaign finance reports are due on Oct. 30.
This would leave little time before the Nov. 4 election for the Secretary of State to issue matching fund checks and for Block to spend the money on campaign materials.
Block tells SFR via e-mail he believes, “I am entitled to, and have requested matching funds.”
Lass concurs Block is entitled to the money. As the president of Voting Matters, a group that pushed for public financing in Santa Fe City Council races, Lass says the intent of the law is for that money to be matched fairly and immediately.
“He probably is entitled to any funds that Democrats for Rick Lass expend on my behalf or to oppose him,” Lass says and goes even further. “I would’ve thought that the money the Green Party directly donated to my campaign would qualify him for that too.”
The Green Party has donated $3,250 to Lass’ campaign and can donate approximately $3,000 more under the law. So far, Democrats for Lass has spent approximately $1,000. Together, that could mean the Secretary of State owes Block up to $4,000 in matching funds. Conservation Voters of New Mexico also is independently spending money, with a series of three new radio ads critical of Block that begin running this week.
Matt Brix, who was executive director of Common Cause when the election-reform organization pushed through the Voter Action Act, disagrees on the amount. Brix estimates the Secretary of State only owes Block a few hundred bucks for an ad posted on Joe Monahan’s political blog and, perhaps, for Perea’s salary. The Political Action Committee’s other expenditures so far include a filing fee, a $250 contribution to current PRC Commissioner Ben Ray Luján’s congressional campaign and a $100 contribution to Democrat US Rep. Tom Udall’s Senate campaign, sums that Brix says shouldn’t trigger matching funds because they don’t expressly advocate for Lass or against Block.
Nevertheless, Brix says, the law is unclear on this issue.
“I think it’s imperative, following the election, the Secretary of State’s Office must reexamine the rules and regulations of the public campaign financing system,” Brix, who is now policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, says. “I think a complete rewrite of the rules is in order.”