Uncounted Rio Arriba County ballots raise eyebrows

Posted 2/06/2008 12:50:00 PM

(This article has been updated to include Richard Martinez’s comments to Nash and the new vote margin separating Clinton and Obama.)

The New Mexico Democratic Party caucus may be tainted by three ballot boxes that spent the night in the home of the Rio Arriba County party chair or the homes of other local election officials instead of being reported to the state party.

Those ballots still haven’t been counted, but they have been retrieved by the state party.

Several sources told me the ballot boxes spent the night at the home of Rio Arriba County Democratic Party Chair Theresa Martinez, whose state-lawmaker husband, Sen. Richard Martinez, endorsed Hillary Clinton. But Richard Martinez told Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Kate Nash that the boxes actually spent the night in the homes of three polling-place managers. He gave Nash no explanation for why the results from those ballots weren’t reported to the state party last night and why they were instead kept overnight in officials’ homes.

“The site managers locked them and they kept them and they took them to my wife this morning,” Nash quoted Richard Martinez as saying.

State party officials and Theresa Martinez have not returned my calls seeking comment.

The three ballot boxes from Rio Arriba County and a fourth from Sandoval County account for the 2 percent of precincts that haven’t yet reported results from Tuesday’s caucus. With about 200 votes separating Clinton and Barack Obama, that’s huge. We’re talking about the ballots from half the polling places in Rio Arriba County.

I want to make sure this point is emphasized: Roughly half the votes from Rio Arriba County spent the night in the privacy of the home or homes of one or more election officials in boxes those officials may have had the ability to open. All the county party chair had to do last night to report the results was make a phone call. That never happened.

The ballot boxes were retrieved from Theresa Martinez by the state party this morning.

I understand there was a big snowstorm up there, and I realize people were up late and might have slept in this morning. It’s possible – perhaps even likely – that there is nothing fishy going on here.

But there are valid concerns. Rio Arriba County has a history of election scandal.

The Obama and Clinton campaigns should have lawyers there trying to figure out what’s happening and ready to act if necessary. My understanding is that Obama attorneys are already on their way. The state party needs to quickly resolve this and tell the public how it’s going to allay fears that the election process is tainted beyond repair.

If the ballots are disqualified, voters are disenfranchised. If they’re counted, the process may be tainted. This is an incredibly close race. You have to wonder if, at the end of it all, the losing candidate will petition the DNC to not seat some or all of New Mexico’s delegates, arguing that the process here was fatally tainted. I wrote earlier today about a number of other problems with Tuesday’s caucus. This only adds to the list.

A number of Democrats have told me they’re furious with the state party over these issues. I’m trying to get to the bottom of it. Check back later today for updates.

Update, 2:30 p.m.

Phil Sisneros, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said an AG investigation is unlikely because this was a party-run election not subject to the state election code.

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At 2:11 PM, February 06, 2008, Blogger Marcos said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:39 PM, February 06, 2008, Blogger SteveR said...

The dominance of one party rule at the local level in many areas of this state for as long as I can remember means that there is no accoutability and these type of shenanigans are far too common.

At 2:49 PM, February 06, 2008, Blogger MIchael said...

I, for one, am very disappointed in the managment of the caucaus. Underestimating the voter turnout by 900% caused many problems for rank and file voting Democrats. Not only were substantial numbers of people turned away from the polls or otherwise discouraged from voting, but we also have the Rio Arriba situation in which the votes that were cast were waylaid for 10 hours before being accounted for. How do we have confidence that the will of the majority of our voters is being expressed? Is there a way to void the caucaus and hold a better organized one later in the Springtime? Or, would it be more fair for the party leaders to agree to split the delegation 50/50 on the basis of what appears to be an evenly divided vote?
Michael Arkin

At 3:29 PM, February 06, 2008, Blogger Maggie said...

This is outrageous... someone's got to be held accountable for this.


At 4:53 PM, February 07, 2008, Blogger Patrick Furlong said...

I am also disappointed. I am a 24 year old Albuquerque resident who is in the middle of a two year Peace Corps like volunteer program. I requested my ballot in December, followed the instructions and implicitly requested the ballot be sent to my Ecuador address, only to find out Jan 17th that they sent it to my New Mexico address. I requested something be done, and I just received the ballot today- because despite me catching their mistake- they waited until Jan 24th to send it out with the assurance that I could mail it back any time, just putting it in a different envelop addressed directly to this woman working in the state party.

It saddens me that I jumped through all the right hoops but, because I have given two years of my life to service- my vote is not counted. The lack of organization on the part of the party is overwhelming, and the news reports coming in only support that notion.

Plain and simple- it is just a discouraging message to send to youth already jaded by the political process.

At 1:01 AM, February 08, 2008, Blogger RCD said...

This is completely outrageous and a travesty! I cannot believe the media is not covering this story nor the voter discrepancies in Nevada.

It is always the close elections when these mysterious problems happen. Maybe people can contact the DNC and express their concerns.

DNC 202-863-8000 or 877-336-7200

At 1:44 PM, February 08, 2008, Blogger Ben said...

It may seem cynical, but I watch the elections here in New Mexico not out of the excitement of the contest or to root for my favorite candidate, but to see how many ballot boxes are "found" in bathrooms, cars, or someone's house.

At 5:20 PM, February 08, 2008, Blogger laura said...

You know, if you had a caucus instead of a primary you wouldn't have to worry about missing ballots.

At 11:30 AM, February 09, 2008, Blogger creflo said...

In Nv. we caucased in the local high school gym. The votes were tabulated by headcount of the different groups gathered under their candidates banner. This count was handed in on a piece of scrap paper to the main election official at the precinct. Now in my estimation, this is unfathomable. Could not anyone along the line just change the numbers to suit their agenda? I want Nv. to go back to the primary vote by either Ballot or paper trailed machines. One where every voter has his say, not just his head counted in a group.

At 3:45 PM, February 11, 2008, Blogger Phil said...

Holding someone accountable for this is a laudable goal for preventing recurrences, but it should come second to resolving the problem on our hands now. What's important is seeing to it that these voters have a voice, and making sure that voice is not distorted by corrupt officials.

If a recount is not possible, and an investigation cannot verify with certainty that the ballots were not altered, this district must report no candidate preference. A difference of 200 voters is close enough to 50/50 that this is not a gross distortion of the results, but to report victory for either candidate at so close a margin with those ballots in doubt would paralyze the election process beyond tolerance.


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