By Cheryl Everett
Reports surfaced last weekend of flag-waving activist caravans obstructing and intimidating voters at two Albuquerque polling locations in heavily Latino neighborhoods.
What kind of American obstructs voting, our most basic right?
The Bernalillo County district attorney’s office is investigating the incidents. State statute prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place, approaching a voter within 50 feet of poll site doors or blocking access in any way.
Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said a group of about 50 slow-moving, tightly spaced cars interfered with public access at a polling site on Central Avenue. And at a South Valley voting center, about 100 partisan demonstrators lined both sides of the street, standing next to vehicles and mingling with traffic.
Ferguson observed many voters leaving the polling site without voting.
Too close to home. Too close to tyranny.
Rio Rancho and Sandoval County officials said there were no similar incidents reported to date in the month before the election. Both jurisdictions noted that voters experiencing harassment could report the incidents to local police or the county sheriff, though law enforcement cannot be inside a polling place unless called by the precinct judge.
Ferguson reported that a dedicated helpline has been formed by Common Cause New Mexico and the American Civil Liberties Union to run a nonpartisan voter protection program statewide, including Rio Rancho and Sandoval County. The two groups are fielding volunteer teams on the ground and a phone hotline for voters to summon help in real time.
The voter protection hotline numbers are 1-866-OUR-VOTE (English) and 1-866-VE-Y-VOTA (Spanish).
The hotlines are staffed by attorneys, law students and others familiar with the New Mexico election code. CCNM has been running election protection programs since 2008, and is not affiliated with any party, candidate or issue campaign.
Intimidation, obstruction or harassment of voters is a felony. Offenses include blocking the entrance to a polling place, violence or threats of violence, brandishing weapons and/or spreading false information about voting.
Harassment includes approaching cars, writing down license plate numbers or following voters in or out of a polling place.
Those legitimately present inside a voting place should be wearing name badges, and may include:
• Poll workers: Official team including a presiding judge and two other judges, plus other clerks, depending on the size of the polling station. These people are in charge.
• Challengers: A controversial group in recent years, they must be approved in advance and reside in the same county as the voting site. They may challenge voters who allegedly are not registered or have allegedly already voted, but challengers should not interact with voters — only with poll workers.
• Poll watchers, who are recording data for political parties or candidates, and observers, who are international observers or academics playing no active role.
This is all good information to have. But the bottom line is: What are we going to do with it in our last days to vote in this election?
Let’s “stand our ground” against voter intimidation.
(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)