It may be an American’s right to vote on Election Day, but that right was hampered in last November’s elections by excessively long waits, a limited number of voting machines, a lack of Spanish-speaking translators and — in one case — an “intimidating” police presence at the polls. Those were just a few of the stories that people told legislative members of both the House Voter and Election Committee and the Senate Rules Committee on Saturday morning. The special session was dedicated to hearing testimony on unexpected and unpleasant challenges facing New Mexico voters in last November’s general election. “There’s no such thing as a perfect election, but it’s always troubling to hear of issues on Election Day,” said Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who has served as county clerk for Bernalillo County since 2007. She was one of about 20 people offering first-hand testimony — and also the only county clerk to show up for the event.
The speakers hailed from Las Cruces, Anthony, Alamogordo, Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Bernalillo and Las Vegas. Some represented voter-activist organizations including Common Cause New Mexico, the League of Women Voters, and New Mexico Vote Matters. Others — many of whom spoke Spanish during the hearing — told first-hand stories of waiting at least three hours in lengthy lines and finding very little guidance in the way of signage or Spanish-language documents. Many said that officials and volunteers manning polling sites asked them for photo identification documents despite the fact that they had their voter registration card on them.
Many heaped criticism on the manner in which election officials and volunteers in Sandoval, Otero and Doña Ana counties handled Election Day. Mariaelena Johnson of the community group New Mexico Café told of her frustration attempting to help Otero County voters by offering them bottled water, snacks and food as they stood in long lines.
In return, she said, the presiding election official, identified by Johnson as Connie Maes, called the Otero County Sheriff’s Office, which dispatched eight deputies to the site to run Johnson and her group off. “I was there to protect the people’s right to vote, and I don’t think she’d ever seen that,” Johnson said of Maes. “We were not there to sully up the process, we were there to protect voter’s rights.”