Bill for adequate staffing at polling places heading to governor
A bill designed to end long lines and short tempers at polling places won approval Tuesday night from the New Mexico Senate.
The measure by state Rep. Nate Cote, right, would require county clerks to have enough trained poll workers, machines and booths to accommodate voters.
Senators approved the bill 37-3. It previously cleared the House of Representatives, so it now goes to Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration.
Cote, D-Organ, sponsored the bill because of Election Night chaos in the border town of Chaparral. Lines were so long in Chaparral that the last person did not vote until 10:45 p.m.
Worse still, the election judge in Chaparral called Otero County sheriff’s deputies after nonpartisan volunteers offered water and chairs to voters waiting in line.
Deputies put up yellow crime-scene tape around the polling place, and volunteers said the lawmen threatened to arrest them. Robyn Holmes, who was the Otero County clerk during the election, said the election judge called the sheriff because the crowd became unruly. Volunteers said Holmes’ account was untrue.
Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, voted against Cote’s bill. Griggs said the trouble in Chaparral was a one-time occurrence because the county clerk’s staff was surprised by a larger-than-expected turnout.
Holmes said about 250 people vote at the Chaparral precinct, but twice as many showed up for the November election.
Long lines also were a problem in Rio Rancho, where Martinez herself passed out pizza and water to voters.
Cote said his bill was a concrete approach to heading off anymore problems in elections.
“No one should be expected to stand in line for hours to exercise their civic duty,” he said.
Ariel Bickel of New Mexico Vote Matters said the bipartisan support for Cote’s bill was encouraging.
“We're heartened to see that both Republican and Democratic legislators believe that one voter prevented from voting is one too many,” she said.
In addition to Griggs, Republican Sens. John Ryan and Mark Moores, both of Albuquerque, voted against Cote’s measure. It is House Bill 219.
Cote has another bill that would require establishment of an early voting site for a population center of more than 1,500 people, provided that it is more than 50 miles from its county’s nearest site to cast early ballots.
Chaparral, with a population of about 15,000, is split between Dona Ana and Otero counties. Those on the Otero side were at least 80 miles from the early voting center in the county seat of Alamogordo.