Lawsuit over Rio Rancho mess, indifference about trouble in Chaparral
THE WEEKEND COLUMN
Three GOP candidates who lost their races blamed long lines in Rio Rancho and general inefficiency by the Sandoval County clerk for their defeats. The candidates’ whining culminated with their filing frivolous lawsuits to overturn the election results.
One of those litigants is former state representative David Doyle of Corrales. He ran for the state Senate last fall and lost to incumbent Sen. John Sapien, a Democrat.
Taking the loss like the nonprofessional he is, Doyle sued in state court. Defeat exposes hypocritical politicians, and Doyle proves it.
A self-described rock-ribbed conservative who says we need less government, not more, Doyle nonetheless asked a judge to declare him the election winner because the Sandoval County clerk did a bad job.
Doyle, right, dropped that suit but he recently filed another one in federal court seeking a new election against Sapien. His new claim is a lot like the old one.
“Plaintiff Teresa Fleming, like thousands of other registered voters in Rio Rancho, was effectively prevented from voting due to the long lines and long delays for voters...” Doyle’s lawsuit says.
His lawyers, who include former state Supreme Court justice Paul J. Kennedy, advanced a specific but ludicrous claim in seeking a new election. They said Doyle would have defeated Sapien by 219 votes if only the county clerk had run the election correctly.
“Absent voter suppression, fraud or error, and based upon reasonable projections given population growth in Rio Rancho, 1,842 additional voters would have cast ballots, and Doyle would have won the state Senate election 12,607 to 12,388,” Doyle’s lawsuit says.
Doyle and his lawyers are on a fool’s errand. Courts require hard evidence, not squishy speculation about what might have been.
Indisputable is that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez ventured to Rio Rancho on Election Night to pass out water, pizza and encouragement to voters standing in line. She told them to hold their places so they could eventually cast their votes — for Doyle and other Republicans, she hoped.
For all their complaining and litigating about what happened in Rio Rancho, Republicans have been quiet about Election Night chaos that occurred in the border town of Chaparral.
Republicans on the Otero County board of commissioners declined to allocate money for an early voting center in Chaparral. This meant voters from Chaparral had to travel about 80 miles one way to Alamogordo if they wanted to vote early.
The commissioners saved a few thousand dollars by withholding an early voting center, but their decision helped bring shame on New Mexico.
Typically, about 250 people vote in the Otero portion of Chaparral on Election Day. But twice as many voters jammed the Chaparral polling site in November.
Long lines were the norm, just as they were in Rio Rancho. Nonpartisan volunteers in Chaparral brought water and chairs to help voters make it through the night.
Instead of their service being applauded, the way many applauded the governor in Rio Rancho, Chaparral volunteers were threatened with arrest.
A panicked election judge called the sheriff, who dispatched eight deputies to the Chaparral polling site. Whether unwittingly or intentionally, the deputies became an intimidating force.
They told adults that they would go to jail if they approached voters to offer them water. Children then became the water couriers, for they were less likely to be arrested.
Deputies even put yellow crime-scene tape around the Chaparral polling place, contributing to the idea that jail cells awaited those who were trying to help people celebrate their freedom by voting.
The last person in line in Chaparral finally voted at 10:45 p.m. State Rep. Nate Cote, right, has asked the state attorney general to investigate the Chaparral election debacle.
Republicans, so quick to file lawsuits in Rio Rancho, were indifferent to hostile about what happened in Chaparral.
Thirty-one of 32 Republicans in the state House of Representatives voted against Cote’s bill for an early voting center in Chaparral. The other Republican, Rep. Dianne Hamilton, was absent.
Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, voted against Cote’s bill on grounds that it would create more expenses for county governments. Herrell’s father is an Otero County commissioner.
Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a former Otero County clerk, also opposed Cote’s bill. She said what happened in Chaparral was a one-time occurrence — a fluke.
Cote’s bill passed the House with all 38 Democrats voting for it. It died in the Senate on the final day of the legislative session, never receiving a vote there.
Cote, D-Organ, says he know why Republicans cared so deeply about what happened in Rio Rancho but so little about the mess in Chaparral.
“Chaparral is predominantly Hispanic and predominantly Democratic. It became apparent to me that they were threatened by the number of Democrats there who will be voting,” Cote said.
After David Doyle’s inane lawsuit is laughed out of court, perhaps Republicans will do the right thing and expand early voting centers to include Chaparral, a place were voter rights were imperiled.