Thursday, June 19, 2008

Albuquerque, NM: GOTV Prep in New Mexico

I spend the first part of my morning at the Bernalillo County Clerk's Office for a training to be certified as a Voter Registration Agent. My sent me to the session because I will be stationed in New Mexico this fall for a block of time to work with SEIU on the November elections. In addition to the O-blah-ma campaign, New Mexico has several (all?) Congressional seats openamong them, as well as the Senate candidate Tom Udall.

New Mexican law uniquely requires that anyone who wants to register NM citizens to vote (and is not a state employee) to complete a certification course. Upon certification, the Agent receives a serial number that must be recorded on each completed voter registration form. This law came into effect after the 2004 elections, when a certain (beloved!) organization apparently turned in large amount of incorrect registration forms. The state argues that this stringent process makes it more difficult to falsify registrations because it holds the registrant and the Agent accountable - and subject to multiple fines and criminal charges.

Call it what they may, the law provides yet another hurdle for the countless disenfranchised in the state. For example, registrants must provide their social security number in order to complete the form. This requirement - in my experience of registering hundreds (thousands??) of hotel workers - is a HUGE turn off for first time voters. In New York you can give the last four digits of your SS# or another identification number. This option values the the hesitation to the newness of voting that many people have. Another barrier under the law is the rule that the registration cards must be sent to the County Clerk within two days of signing to be valid. This presents obvious challenges to both Agent and registrant.

There is one particular item of interest on the NM registration form. Because so many residents call home a "non-traditional place" or "non-street address" (many living in American Indian pueblos,) the back of the form includes a large blank box where the Agent may draw a map of the home's location, followed by a description, so that the County Clerk may place the voter in a district. The example given on the form reads:

"RD 743, west side, 1 mile north of Smith's store and 4 miles south of RD 698"

They sure don't include THAT on New York forms! Sheesh!

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