Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Some quick notes on Election Day Observations in Southern New Mexico

I arrived at my first polling place at 6am in Las Cruces to watch the opening. Out of 4 poll workers, 1 had had training, and the other 3 had only been called to work the day before. Needless to say, it was a little chaotic, and the polls opened about 15 minutes late. The voters were a little hostile and yelling at the workers, but they finally were able to vote. When a person gets a ballot, they also get a voter permit card that has the ballot number and the voters number on the list of registered voters. At this particular precinct, the poll workers were asking the voter's party identification to write on the permit card as they inserted the ballot into the voting machine. It was obvious the voters were a little taken aback by this, but didn't really question it. It is definitely not allowed to ask a voter's partisanship like this. Very weird.

Most of the precincts I visited throughout Doña Ana County and Las Cruces were very slow, without very much activity. Its not all that surprising because early voting turnout was so high here, but I'll have to see if that was the trend across the county and the state. I've had very little communication with others throughout the day.

The most interesting place I went to was Sunland Park, which is a heavily Latino area next to El Paso. The first precinct we attended had a table of Obama campaign people in front of the polling place handing out sample ballots to voters with all the Democratic candidates filled in so the voters could use the sample ballot as a guide. We saw a number of voters actually use these ballots in the pooling booth. There was also another team of Obama campaign people helping voters find their precinct if they were at the wrong precinct. Unfortunately, in the heavily Spanish-speaking areas we attended, there were a high number of provisional ballots being filled out. I'm not really sure what was going on, but there seemed to be a lot more confusion going on in these precincts in finding the correct voting location. The Republican challenger inside the Sunland Park precinct said he was waiting for a buss load of people to come into the site, so he could go out and start taking down the license plates as a form of intimidation. He said it works, because a lot of voters in the area are scared of people recording information about them. 

In the second precinct in Sunland Park, there was not much going on, but as we were leaving, My colleague and I were harassed by a supposed chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party. She said she had received reports of two men going around precincts asking voters to sign forms and talking to voters, something we were definitely not doing. It was a fairly long ordeal, and I understand her concern. It does demonstrate the level of tension in this community, and two white guys walking around with forms probably looked suspicious to somebody. We had heard stories about the last election from some Obama people of campaigners being arrested by the police, even though they were far enough away from the precinct. 

I'm tired and need a drink.