Bickering Between NM Secretaries of State an Ugly Circus: Open Government requires Open Elections

Current Secretary of State Mary Herrera has disclosed information from a federal investigation being conducted by the Elections Assistance Commission accusing the former holder of her office, Rebecca Vigil-Giron, of using $6.4 million of federal money for her own publicity. The federal funds, provided under mandates of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, were supposed to be used to plan and run the 2004 and 2006 federal elections, but according to Trip Jennings of the Albuquerque Journal (Former Official Faulted for Ads, Feb. 19, 2008), Herrera has suggested that Vigil-Giron used the funds for public service announcements “often featuring herself.” Vigil-Giron is now running to represent the Albuquerque district in Congress.
The fact of the matter is neither Secretary of State has a very positive record when it comes to running elections. During the state’s recent democratic caucus, scores of hopeful voters were incorrectly told that they were not registered and were forced to fill out provisional ballots so their registration status could be confirmed before their votes were counted. Mary Herrera’s spokesperson “defended the [voter] database prepared by [Election Systems and Software], one of the nation’s large private election vendors,” even though it was apparent that the list was rife with mistakes.
After the 2004 presidential elections, representatives from all eight political parties united to file a lawsuit against Rebecca Vigil-Giron and the State of New Mexico (Lopategui et al versus the State of New Mexico), alleging that thousands of votes were miscounted by electronic voting machines statewide and hoping to provide measures that would prevent similar failures of democracy in the future. Among stories of voting machine malfunctions, “One poll worker described watching 141 voters come to the precinct, enter the polling booth where a voting machine awaited, stay for a short period, and leave. At the end of the day, there was only one vote counted for president.” While plaintiffs and defendants collected evidence for the lawsuit, Ms. Vigil-Giron motioned to dismiss the case, which was denied by Judge Eugenio Mathis.
It is obviously inappropriate for officials to use public money to boost their name recognition. Even though Ms. Vigil-Giron did appear in the public service announcements, they did their job of educating potential voters on the registration process. On the other hand, Ms. Herrera’s office was responsible for the voter list that butchered the democratic caucus. Public concerns like voter registration lists are one of a handful of public services that should be the responsibility of public officials, not private companies. New Mexicans apparently need to work harder to find competent officials to serve in the Secretary of State’s office.