… State Rep. Nate Cote, D-Doña Ana … has a package of bills designed to prevent such a catastrophe in the future. Yet one is being opposed by the very official who oversees New Mexico’s elections, Secretary of State Dianna Duran. Duran, who served as Otero County clerk from 1989 to 1993, has connections to the same office that critics blame for the Chaparral fiasco. “Let’s face it, that’s where the Secretary of State comes from,” Cote says. (Duran did not respond to SFR’s request for comment.) One of Cote’s bills would require an early voting site within 50 miles of population areas representing at least 1,500 registered voters. (Last election, the closest early voting site for Otero County Chaparral residents was in Alamogordo, roughly 85 miles away.) A second bill would establish stricter guidelines for voting center staff and resources on Election Day. Duran’s office has neither endorsed nor opposed the latter bill, but Guerra says it’s unnecessary because she’s already planning to add more staff for upcoming elections. Duran’s office does oppose the early voting bill, arguing that the Chaparral mess happened because two voting precincts were represented by one election board and one polling place.
“In future elections, all that needs to happen is that Precinct 1 and Precinct 41 should be separated into two distinct polling places with two separate precinct boards,” Duran wrote in the bill’s fiscal impact report. “The creation of a separate voting site would waste precious election funds.”
Guerra agrees about the cost issue, citing numbers showing that the Doña Ana side of Chaparral had only 55 early voters last year. Guerra says such a low turnout doesn’t necessarily justify the cost of an early voting site, which can run around $8,000. “It might cost too much,” she says. “It might not get voters out.”
But Bickel says the bill allows early-voting sites near small populations to be open on only five days, instead of the standard three weeks, which would save costs and help prevent long lines on Election Day. She says putting a dollar value on votes is cynical, if not unconstitutional (in 1986, the US Supreme Court ruled that election costs are not a sufficient reason to limit a person’s right to vote). “If one voter in the state is disenfranchised, it’s one too many,” Bickel says.