Rubel: Politicians Should Not Be Running Elections

Sep 20, 2021


  Commentary: I remember an old poster from my college days that asked, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”


That’s kind of what happened Saturday in Washington, D.C. Capitol Police who survived the battle on Jan. 6 were prepared for a second round. But this time nobody came.


Sadly, I fear it was a reprieve, not a reversal of what has been a disturbing trend.


During debate earlier this year on a bill that would have prohibited protests outside of private residences, members of the New Mexico Legislature talked about the threats they have faced.


Rep. Micaela Cadena said she stayed in Mesilla during the session to avoid “folks who would potentially try to follow me out of the building.”


Rep. Deborah Armstrong said protest signs were posted on her lawn in Albuquerque one year while she was in Santa Fe, and her family was at home. She will not seek re-election next year.


When he stepped down as secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions in April, Bill McCamley said that not only had he received threatening letters, but so had his mother.


Political threats and violence are nothing new. Two of our last nine presidents have been shot. But those were the acts of crazed individuals. What’s happening now seems much more organized. And, election officials are taking the brunt of it. 


A study by the Brennan Center found that one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job, and one in five consider death threats to be a job-related concern.


Closer to home, Secretary of State MaggieToulouse Oliver told the Albuquerque Journal that she left home for weeks after the 2020 election to escape the threats. Dona Ana County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin said she faced racist attacks, but her greater concern was for the safety of poll workers.


Those disappointed by the results of the 2020 election have gone to great lengths to inject mystery and intrigue into the process. But it’s really pretty straight forward.


In New Mexico, we fill out paper ballots that are fed into a computer for tabulation. If there are questions about the computer tabulations, the paper ballots can later be counted by hand.


The level of cynicism among those trying to sow distrust in our elections was probably best demonstrated by Larry Elder, a candidate seeking to recall the governor of California who posted a complaint two days before the election explaining that the only reason he lost was because of massive voter fraud.


Our system for conducting elections isn’t perfect, and we should continue working to improve it. But, the spate of new election laws being passed by state legislatures throughout the country appear to be designed more to feed the cynicism and distrust rather than to address legitimate concerns. More troubling, some make it easier to overturn the will of the voters.


As for continuing to improve the process, there is one change I think would help. Make the top election official an appointed professional with credentials specific to the job, rather than another political office.


When Republican Dianna Duran was secretary of state, we had very different policies and priorities for conducting our elections than we do now. Those policies were then either embraced or rejected by county clerks, based on their political affiliations


We have it set up where you can be both pitcher and umpire in the same game. A better system would turn administration over to professionals whose only concern is a fair, secure and accessible election.