Where Will We Be Three Months from Now?

August, 21, 2020

by John House

 What will the country look like three months from now? Will we be at home with our loved ones and friends peacefully celebrating or, alternatively, reluctantly accepting, the results of a fair and uncontested election? Or will we be marching in the streets in Washington, D.C.,, instead, protesting against election results either tainted with doubt or obviously manipulated, false? Will we have a president who refuses to leave office despite losing the election? Will Washington look like Minsk, the capital of Belarus, weeks ago, with its streets filled with tens of thousands of peaceful protestors demonstrating their just outrage against false election results? Or could Washington more resemble Bamako, the capital of the West African country, Mali, earlier this week, with the streets full of demonstrators joyfully celebrating the resignation, forced by a coup, of its detested, autocratic president? Or will it  look more like the streets of Minneapolis, Atlanta, Portland and Seattle multiplied a thousand fold, with demonstrators facing off against squads, or even battalions, of national guard and military soldiers dressed in full battle gear and wielding deadly military weapons?

I hope the nation will be at rest, getting back to normal as much as we will be able to, with the elections behind us. But the fact that I can realistically posit these other, post-election possibilities deeply underscores the fact that the 2020 elections will be like no other in American history. The very foundation of the republic, our system of representative government, is built upon is the right of eligible citizens of the United States to cast their votes and empower the persons they want to represent them in government. But the ground underneath that government has been weakened, unsettled, like after an earthquake, by very real and threatened efforts to make it difficult to vote. The closure of voting places and the reduction of open hours of others and have been announced. The security and reliability of absentee and mail-in voting that has been used by the military as far back as the Revolutionary War and by the citizens in most states since the early 20th century is being discredited. The United States Postal Service has been hobbled by the removal of essential equipment and the lowering of postal worker hours at a time when absentee and mail-in voting has become crucial for persons facing the choice of either endangering their lives to vote in person or not vote at all. As a result of these and other actions by some in power at the federal and state levels, the voting process so much that it has discouraged some from voting because they have cynically concluded that their vote won’t matter.

The answer to the question–what will the country look like after the elections?–depends entirely on us. Each of us. All of us. What we do between now and November 3rd will determine where we will be and what this nation will look like not just in the weeks and months following the elections but for many years to come. It may very well determine if the American democratic experiment will continue or end. This country already has been moved off the solid ground of true representative democracy and has slipped down the slope towards plutocracy and oligarchy. In the presidential election, with an incumbent president who believes that presidential authority is total and has totally disregarded the rule of law, and an attorney general who shares his beliefs and helps him violate our constitutional system of checks and balances almost on a daily basis, it teeters on the brink of falling into the abyss of autocracy.

Make a Voting Plan and Follow It

You can best ensure your own participation in the election process by making and following your own individual voting plan. Here’s how:

  • Verify if you are registered to vote by going here. If you are not registered, you can register online by going here.
  • Decide whether you will vote absentee by mail or at the ballot box.
  • If you decide to vote absentee and haven’t already received a request for an absentee ballot in the mail (if you have not requested one, you may receive a request for an absentee ballot in the mail before September 14), you will need to request an absentee ballot. You can print out a request for an absentee ballot here and mail it in or deliver it to your county clerk’s office. NOTE: IMPORTANT DEADLINE: your request for your absentee ballot must be received on or before Tuesday, October 20th.
  • Set the date on your calendar that you will either 1) go to the polling place to vote in person or 2) send in your absentee ballot by mail or deposit your envelope containing your ballot in a drop box that will be available at your county clerk’s office or at other designated If you use a “Reminders”, “Tasks” or a similar app, set the date and time in it as well.
  • VOTE EARLY!!! You can put your absentee ballot in mail in your absentee ballot anytime before Tuesday, October 27. Note: it must be received by the post office on that date. Don’t make the mistake of depositing it in a mail box after the time of the last pickup; your vote will not be counted!
  • Early voting in person starts Tuesday, October 6th, at your county clerk’s office and on Saturday, October 17th, at other locations. Early voting in person ends on October 31. Check with your county clerk’s office for those locations and hours of operation.
  • If you choose to vote in person but don’t have your own transportation, please arrange it in advance and confirm it with the person or service that will transport you to and from the voting location prior to the day and time you chose.
  • If you decide to vote absentee, fill out your ballot carefully, making sure to input all the required information correctly and legibly and either deliver it to the post office, your county clerk’s office, or deposit into a special drop box available at any polling place during its hours of operation. NOTE: All absentee ballots must be mailed out to voters by the County Clerk’s office by  on Wednesday, October 21.

How to Know if Your Absentee Vote is Received

We in New Mexico can help to ensure that our vote will be counted by voting early and verifying the results prior to the November 3rd election.

We can personally keep track of our mail-in ballots. The bar code on the return envelope for each absentee ballot is individual to each absentee voter.  Early voters can check their absentee ballot status by going here.

For more information about voting and how your vote is protected you can go here.

How to Help to Ensure Safe and Secure Elections

You can help to make sure that our polling places function properly by applying to be a poll worker. To learn how, go here.

Organizations like Common Cause New Mexico have programs to secure the integrity of our elections. If you are interested in volunteering to serve as an independent poll water with CCNM, go here. You can also go to that site to report any suspicious election irregularities.

Tell Your Friends and Loved Ones

Go the extra mile to make sure that the people you know exercise their right and citizen’s obligation to vote and share with them the information set forth here with them. It will be featured on our website and on our Facebook page.

A representative democracy can only work properly if its citizenry is informed and votes! So please, familiarize yourself with the issues and the candidates and make sure you vote early and encourage everyone you know to do the same.

John House is President of RepresentUs New Mexico.

Udall, Heinrich Urge USPS Postmaster General to Fix Delays and Avoid Cost Increases for Election Mail

cid:image001.png@01D614D8.E7ADB220FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 14, 2020

Letter follows reports that USPS will depart from long-standing practice of prioritizing election mail, delaying delivery times unless states pay more and while Trump USPS appointee faces several reports of ethics violations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined all Senate Democrats in a letter demanding answers from U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy after state election officials reported recent changes to longstanding practices at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which would increase delivery times and costs for election mail, measures that threaten the vast number of voters seeking to cast their votes by mail this November.

Since President Donald J. Trump appointed DeJoy, a top Trump campaign donor, the Postmaster General has instituted structural changes to the department causing unprecedented delays. Despite increased use of the mail and USPS delivery services due to the coronavirus pandemic, DeJoy has cut overtime for the millions of postal workers serving communities across the country and made other changes that could make it both more difficult and expensive for Americans to vote by mail. As the nation nears the November presidential elections and more Americans than ever are planning to vote by mail to stay safe and prevent unnecessary spread of the coronavirus, DeJoy is reportedly planning to raise election mail rates to First Class in order to be prioritized. The move threatens to delay time-sensitive ballots and disenfranchise American voters who mail their ballots before the date of the election.

DeJoy has refused to provide Congress with satisfactory answers on his actions and continues to assert that election officials must pay the First Class rate for election mail to be prioritized. This letter follows previous requests from the lawmakers that demanded answers from DeJoy after he refused to answer whether reported changes restricting mail delivery came at his direction. DeJoy has since confirmed changes in delayed mail came at his direction.

“Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic,” the senators wrote. “Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote.”

“We have received reports that in the last several weeks, the Postal Service sent letters to state election officials that indicate that the Postal Service will not automatically treat all election mail as First Class,” the senators continued. “If any changes are made to longstanding practices of moving election mail just months ahead of the 2020 general election, it will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions.”

“As Postmaster General, you have a duty to our democracy to ensure the timely delivery of election mail. Millions of Americans’ right to vote depends on your ability to get the job done. We urge you not to increase costs for election officials, and to direct all Postal Service employees to continue to prioritize delivery of election mail,” the senators concluded.

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Postmaster DeJoy:

We write to express significant concern regarding reports that you are implementing policy changes that will increase the cost for timely delivery of election mail, and to urge you not to take any action that makes it harder and more expensive for Americans to vote.

Like voting itself, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is vital to our democracy. Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic. Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) allows state and local officials to send materials authorized or required under the Act, such as absentee ballot applications, at USPS Nonprofit Marketing Mail prices. These prices are lower than the regular USPS Marketing Mail prices and election officials across the country rely on the lower rates to send voters important election mail in a cost-effective manner. Absentee ballots themselves are not specifically covered under the NVRA; however, many jurisdictions receive the lower rate for ballots as well because they utilize the Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) information from returned ballots for list maintenance activities prescribed under the NVRA. The practice of mailing out ballots as Marketing Mail has been formalized to the degree that the 2020 Official Election Mail Kit (Kit 600) sent to election officials in January 2020 includes advice on how to decide whether to send ballots by First Class or Marketing Mail.

While First Class mail normally has a delivery standard of 2-5 days, and Nonprofit Marketing Mail has a delivery standard of 3-10 days, it has been the practice of USPS to treat all election mail as First Class mail regardless of the paid class of service. Reports from the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) support the fact that USPS has traditionally prioritized election mail. An OIG report on the 2018 elections found that 95.6 percent of election and political mail was delivered within the 1-3 day service standard applied to First Class mail. That is extremely close to the USPS overall goal of delivering 96 percent of First Class mail within the 1-3 day service standard and clearly indicates that election mail was being processed across the country as if First Class service standards applied. In addition, the OIG also conducted interviews in which area and facility managers stated that they treat all election mail as First Class mail.

We have received reports that in the last several weeks, the Postal Service sent letters to state election officials that indicate that the Postal Service will not automatically treat all election mail as First Class. If any changes are made to longstanding practices of moving election mail just months ahead of the 2020 general election, it will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions. Many state deadlines allow voters to request absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots within a few days of Election Day, so it is vital that standard delivery times remain low and pricing remain consistent with past practices to which election officials and voters are accustomed.

As you know, state laws set deadlines for voter registration, absentee ballot requests, and ballot postmarking and/or delivery. Changes to previous practices regarding election mail would upset these timelines. Furthermore, changing any policy for election mail only months before Election Day does not give election officials sufficient time to respond by changing deadlines set in law, especially since many state legislatures have adjourned.

Although some election jurisdictions may be able to send their election mail at the First Class rate, the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions simply do not have sufficient resources to do so. Election officials are coping with budgets that are severely strained by the increase in requests for absentee ballots and other costs associated with the pandemic. Despite our continued efforts, Congress has so far only provided states with $400 million in emergency funding for elections—billions short of what experts say is needed to keep voters safe this year. As election officials across the country plead with Congress to authorize additional election funding, reports suggest the Postal Service could implement changes that suddenly increase costs for Americans to safely vote. That is wrong and unacceptable.

As Postmaster General, you have a duty to our democracy to ensure the timely delivery of election mail. Millions of Americans’ right to vote depends on your ability to get the job done. We urge you not to increase costs for election officials, and to direct all Postal Service employees to continue to prioritize delivery of election mail.

We understand you have committed to being more forthcoming and transparent with Congress and the American people regarding your work as Postmaster, including the Postal Service’s plan to successfully deliver election mail during the 2020 elections. Accordingly, we ask you to publicly release this plan and provide answers to the following questions no later than August 25.
1. Prior to 2020 it was the practice of the Postal Service to prioritize the delivery of all election mail, including voter registration materials, absentee ballot request, and ballots, to meet the equivalent of First Class delivery times no matter what class of mail was used to send it. Will the Postal Service commit to continuing this practice?
2. Will the Postal Service commit to continuing its longstanding practice of allowing election officials to mail ballots to voters at Nonprofit Marketing Mail Rates?
3. Has USPS headquarters staff provided any guidance, formally or informally, in writing or verbally, regarding the service standards to be applied to election mail not sent at the First Class rate? Please provide copies of any such guidance.
4. Please provide copies of any letters or guidance sent to state or local election officials regarding the service standards that will be applied to election mail.

Sincerely,

###

Go here to find out how to contact Sens. Udall and Heinrich

DISCLAIMER: RepresentUs New Mexico (RUNM) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. As such, we work on issues that are nonpartisan on a cross-partisan basis with persons of all political affiliations and ideological perspectives to accomplish our goals. The intent of any reference to a political person or party made by us in this email is to call attention to the statement or action made by such person or party that pertains to one of or more of RUNM’s goals, not to show favor or disfavor to such person or party. Statements made by other persons or sources reproduced here represent the perspective of the writers or publishers and not necessarily that of RUNM.

The Politics We Don’t See Matter as Much as Those We Do

Party strategists pay a lot of attention to redrawing district maps — and hope you won’t bother to think about it.

by Thomas B. Edsall

Reprinted from The New York Times, August 12, 2020 edition.

Some of the most important developments in politics do not happen every election cycle, but every ten years, when politicians scrap the old battleground map and struggle to replace it with a new one more favorable to their interests.

Steven Hill, a former fellow at New America, described how this works in his still pertinent 2003 book “Fixing Elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Take All Politics.”

“Beginning in early 2001, a great tragedy occurred in American politics,” Hill wrote. As a result of that tragedy, “most voters had their vote rendered nearly meaningless, almost as if it had been stolen from them” as “hallowed notions such as ‘no taxation without representation’ and ‘one person, one vote’ have been drained of their vitality, reduced to empty slogans.”

Hill was referring to “the process of redistricting” that he argued was legalized “theft” engaged in by “the two major political parties, their incumbents, and their consultants,” which Hill said was “part of the everyday give-and-take (mostly take) of America’s winner-take-all politics.”

Hill first made his argument at a time when both parties were still colluding in developing new districts designed to protect incumbents, Republicans and Democrats alike. Since then, the parties have abandoned any semblance of bipartisanship and are now fully engaged in an all-out battle for control of state legislatures.

A basic objective remains the same, however: to effectively disenfranchise key segments of the electorate.

As Devin Caughey, a political scientist at M.I.T. and the lead author of “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Political Process,” explained in an email:

The goal of partisan gerrymandering is to maximize one party’s seat share given their vote share. The means to this end is drawing districts that waste as many votes for the opposing party as possible, while wasting as few votes as possible for one’s own party.

In addition to creating wasted votes — thus undermining a key principle of democracy — an additional consequence of gerrymandering is what Nicholas Stephanopoulos of Harvard Law School calls “representational distortion”: the adoption of policies that do not have majority support in the electorate.

Stephanopoulos, the author of the 2018 paper “The Causes and Consequences of Gerrymandering,” described “one glaring example,” in an email:

Democrats got more votes than Republicans in the 2012 and 2018 Wisconsin state legislative elections. So in a world without gerrymandering, Democrats would have been able to block all kinds of conservative policies between 2012 and 2014, including environmental deregulation, tax cuts, abortion restrictions, gun deregulation, etc.

Instead, Republican majorities in both branches of the Wisconsin legislature enacted all of those policies, as well as a package of anti-union measures.

In the 2018 election, Democrats won 53 percent of all votes cast in the Wisconsin State Assembly contests, but won 36 percent of the State Assembly seats.

In his paper, Stephanopoulos wrote:

What is undeniably a democratic malfunction, though, is representation that does not reflect the ideological preferences of the electorate — representation that is much more liberal or much more conservative than voters actually want.

His conclusion?

Single-party control of redistricting fosters partisan unfairness more than any other variable, and that such unfairness translates directly into ideologically distorted representation.

Caughey is also concerned about gerrymandering because it leads to a denial of political representation of the majority electorate:

Our basic point about distortion of representation is that partisan gerrymandering pulls state policies in the ideological direction of the party that controls redistricting. This policy effect follows from two facts: (1) gerrymandering allows one party to capture more seats than it would otherwise control, and (2) the occupants of the extra seats vote very differently from the members of the opposite party who would otherwise have occupied those seats.

Since the party in power can “skew policies toward its preferences,” Caughey continues, “the policy effects of additional seats are greatest when party control hangs in the balance. Thus, gerrymandering is most consequential when it gives one party a majority of seats when it would otherwise have a minority.”

Richard Pildes, a law professor at N.Y.U. and an outspoken critic of distorted legislative districts, wrote in an email:

Gerrymandering is antithetical to democracy; politicians should have to compete for popular support under neutral, fair rules of engagement — rather than being able to manipulate the playing field to entrench themselves and their allies in power.

Pildes argues that gerrymandering is

about as pure an example as we have of insiders rigging the system for their own benefit. It also poisons state legislatures, when the decade begins with one party ramming down the throat of the other a manipulative map that affects the state for a decade.

The fight to control redistricting next year is taking place in relatively low visibility races for legislative seats in states ranging from Kansas to Texas to Minnesota.

The Princeton Election Consortium has produced a detailed analysis of those elections in six states, Texas, Minnesota, Connecticut, Kansas, Florida and North Carolina. The consortium, which is headed by Sam Wang, a professor of neuroscience and microbiology at Princeton, identifies the key “races where voters have the most leverage to prevent partisan gerrymandering in 2021. A few hundred voters mobilized in the right districts could bring bipartisan control of redistricting to a state, leading to fairer districts for a decade.”

The consortium found, for example, that a cluster of eight Kansas state house districts in Johnson County, an affluent suburb of Kansas City, offers key opportunities for Democratic voters and donors to shift the balance of power statewide.

In a reflection of partisan enthusiasm, in 2019, the first full year of the current election cycle, Johnson County Democrats outraisedJohnson County Republicans $108,314 to $58,480.

In North Carolina, the consortium identified three districts in the Highpoint-Greensboro-Winston Salem region as strong targets for Democrats seeking to wrest control of the North Carolina house.

Gerrymandering battlegrounds vary widely, both in terms of the parties’ goals and strategies.

In Kansas, for example, where Republicans overwhelmingly dominate both branches of the legislature, the Democratic goal is to pick up just one more seat in the Kansas House. That would give the party enough votes to block a Republican gerrymander by preventing the Republican majority from overriding a veto by the Democratic governor of a Republican redistricting plan. In other words, without veto-proof majorities in both branches, Republicans would be forced to work with Democrats in drawing both legislative and congressional district lines.

In Minnesota, the Democratic goal is to gain a State Senate majority by winning at least two additional seats. If successful, Democrats would then have complete control over redistricting — a so-called trifecta — the governor, the State Senate and the state House, with Republicans left powerless.

Republicans currently have trifectas in 21 states, Democrats in 15 — the remaining states have divided government. Fourteen states, including California, Ohio and Michigan, have shifted control over redistricting from the state legislature to an independent commission. Eleven others use independent commissions either to advise legislatures or to step in when no agreement can be reached. Republicans control both branches of the legislature in 29 states to the Democrats 19, with the only split in Minnesota. (Nebraska’s state government is unicameral.)

For partisans engaged in state legislative battles, anti-democratic concerns over gerrymandering fall on largely deaf ears — these activists are forced by the rules of the game to compete in redistricting contests because the stakes are so high.

Take the issue of voting rights and the sustained efforts by Republicans to suppress turnout, especially among pro-Democratic minorities.

Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California-Irvine, wrote by email:

The trend at the Supreme Court and in the lower courts, increasingly stacked with Trump appointees, is a pullback on federal protection of voting rights. That means that many voting rights struggles will begin and end with what state legislatures — and in some cases state supreme courts applying state constitutions — say the rules will be.
Fredrick Cornelius Harris, a professor of political science and director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia, warned that current developments — the likely census undercount of minorities and the poor and the Trump administration’s discouragement of immigrants from filling out census forms, together with the Covid-19 pandemic — will weaken the political leverage of minorities post-2021 redistricting.

These factors, Harris wrote by email, “could impact the reapportionment of seats in state legislatures,” before adding that

A weakened voting rights act — this will be the first reapportionment since Shelby County vs. Holder — could have an impact on the number of majority-minority districts in the South. Since Republicans run state houses in the Deep South, there can be a potential loss of seats for Democrats and Black/Latino legislators in some of those states if Republicans choose to do so.

In many of the key states where state legislative contests are fought most intensely, Democrats are generally on offense and Republican on defense. A major factor driving this difference is the continuing suburban animosity toward Trump that is pushing many independents and nominally Republican voters toward the Democratic Party, as the 2018 election demonstrated.

This pattern of Republican vulnerability has proved especially true in Texas, where Democrats are determined to capitalize on the major gains they have made in state and federal contests in the suburbs of Dallas, Houston and other cities.

Robert M. Stein, a political scientist at Rice University who has been closely following contests in Texas where Democrats need to gain nine seats to take control of the state house, wrote me:

The polling I am seeing and expect to see in the next few weeks suggests the Democrats have a better than even chance — 55 percent likelihood — of picking up more than nine seats.
In addition, Stein wrote,

the registration numbers are moving away from the Republicans’ previous 1 million voter advantage. Since 2017, 5 percent more Democrats registered to vote in Texas than Republicans and this advantage appears to be widening since the first of the year. The demographic shift is bearing fruit for Texas Democrats and in a predictable fashion.

In the national fund-raising competition, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is slightly behind the Republican State Leadership Committee for the period from January 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020, according to I.R.S. records, $28.1 million to $32.8 million.

These figures do not, however, take into account the surge in support of other Democratic groups involved in state legislative contests. The most important of these is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which has raised more than $50 million since its founding in 2017. The committee backs Democratic legislative candidates but requires them to support efforts to restrict gerrymandering, including the creation of independent redistricting commissions.

While Democrats are on the offensive, especially in suburban legislative seats across the county, the party is fighting an uphill battle overall.

Charles Nuttycombe, director of CNalysis, an election forecasting firm, assessed the likely outcomes of state legislative races in “The State of the States: The Legislatures,” an essay published at Crystal Ball, the political website run by Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. Nuttycombe’s conclusion is best summarized in the sub-headline: “Don’t expect much overall change even as many chambers are competitive.”

One of the major problems Democrats face is the unexpected resilience of a $30 million 2010 Republican program called Redmap — the Redistricting Majority Project. This exceptionally successful initiative was developed by Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, who recognized the crucial role of state legislatures in determining the balance of power in Congress.

As Reuters reported, in the 2010 election, the Republican Redmap project netted some 700 state seats, increasing its share of state House and Senate seats by almost 10 percent, from approximately 3200 to over 3900. It took over both legislative chambers in 25 states and won total control of 21 states (legislature and governorship) — the greatest such victory since 1928.

Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University, is a co-author with Devin Caughey and Chris Tausanovitch, a political scientist at U.C.L.A., of “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Political Process,” which I mentioned earlier. Warshaw emailed me about the continued success of Redmap:

It’s really remarkable how extreme and durable some of the gerrymanders from 2011-12 have been. A number of studies have shown that the Republican gerrymanders in places like Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were among the most extreme in history. In Congress, these gerrymandered maps probably gained Republicans at least a dozen seats. One study recently estimated that Republicans gained 27 seats in Congress from the 2011 maps.
In the case of Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Warshaw pointed out,

Republicans have continued to control the majority of seats year after year in both chambers of the state legislatures. This is despite the fact that Democrats received a majority of the votes in state legislative elections in all three states in 2018. In some of these states, Democrats would probably need to win the popular vote by more than 10 percent to win control of the state legislature. So while I do think that Democrats will win control of a couple more chambers in 2020 if Biden continues to have an 8+ point lead over President Trump, it’s going to be very difficult for Democrats to overcome the Republican gerrymanders in places like Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

In other words, Democrats may have the wind at their backs this year, but the roadblocks Republicans have constructed over the course of the past decade are quite likely to prove insurmountable, for quite some time, no matter which party takes the White House, no matter how meaningless voters find the ballots they cast and no matter how many American voters are deprived of a voice.

DISCLAIMER: RepresentUs New Mexico (RUNM) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. As such, we work on issues that are nonpartisan on a cross-partisan basis with persons of all political affiliations and ideological perspectives to accomplish our goals. The intent of any reference to a political person or party made by us in this email is to call attention to the statement or action made by such person or party that pertains to one of or more of RUNM’s goals, not to show favor or disfavor to such person or party. Statements made by other persons or sources reproduced here represent the perspective of the writers or publishers and not necessarily that of RUNM.

Our Letter to President Trump | RepresentUs

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If any other President or politician behaved this way, we’d have the same response.

Full page ad published in the New York Times, August 9, 2020

Our letter to
President Trump

This is not partisanship, it’s patriotism. President Trump refused to say that he would accept the results of a free and fair election, then made an unprecedented and unconstitutional move to delay the election. We responded with a full page ad in America’s paper of record, the New York Times.

We are conservatives and progressives who believe democracy is bigger than any president or political party. Make a donation to support our work. Every dollar goes directly to helping pass anti-corruption and pro-democracy laws across America.

Click here to see the full ad.

DISCLAIMER: RepresentUs New Mexico (RUNM) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. As such, we work on issues that are nonpartisan on a cross-partisan basis with persons of all political affiliations and ideological perspectives to accomplish our goals. The intent of any reference to a political person or party made by us in this email is to call attention to the statement or action made by such person or party that pertains to one of or more of RUNM’s goals, not to show favor or disfavor to such person or party. Statements made by other persons or sources reproduced here represent the perspective of the writers or publishers and not necessarily that of RUNM.

Ethics complaint alleges group failed to disclose donors, connection to prominent New Mexico lobbyist

August 7, 2020

Reprinted from New Mexico in Depth

Over the course of May and early June this year, a new group called the “Council for a Competitive New Mexico” (CCNM) spent over $130,000 on a media campaign supporting a group of incumbent state senators, most of whom would go on to lose as part of a progressive wave in June’s Democratic primary.

The media campaign included several negative mailers and automated phone-calls against candidates opposing the incumbents while the public was left in the dark about who organized the group and who funded the media campaign.

Now, an ethics complaint filed this week with the Secretary of State’s office alleges that CCNM broke New Mexico’s election code by not disclosing its donors.

Neri Holguin, campaign manager for two of the candidates who won during the June primary, Siah Correa Hemphill and Pam Cordova, writes that the group may have violated the New Mexico Elections Code by not reporting who paid for the negative advertising and phone calls against those candidates as well as others.

“It was a deliberate attempt to make it as difficult as possible for voters to know who’s behind these hits on our candidates,” said Holguin in an interview. “They knew the rules enough to file as an independent expenditure (IE) and to list their expenditures, and so why not list contributors?”

“Voters need to know that, and we have no way of knowing that right now,” said Holguin.

At the core of Holquin’s complaint is a new state law that triggers certain groups to disclose publicly and quickly who the donors are that paid for their electioneering activities if the costs are larger than a state-prescribed threshold.

Holguin said she believes CCNM was created by a group of people, including prominent New Mexico lobbyist Vanessa Alarid–whom she mentioned by name in the complaint–that have used similar tactics in recent years to influence elections at the local and state level without disclosing publicly who is funding the activities in a timely fashion.

Chevonne Alarid, the president of the nonprofit group, however, said disclosure isn’t necessary until it files its annual report to the Internal Revenue Service. In addition, she and Vanessa Alarid both denied Vanessa’s involvement. An unnamed representative of the Council for a Competitive New Mexico said in an email the group was in compliance with state law.

The disagreement offers a glimpse into an ongoing debate over how to ensure the public knows who is behind negative political messaging at a time when vast amounts of political spending is going undisclosed across the country.

Lack of disclosure

CCNM’s media campaign during the primary included a mixture of negative ads targeting challengers and positive ads supporting the incumbents they opposed. A search of the Secretary of State’s independent expenditure portal shows that while the group did report its expenditures, it didn’t disclose the donors behind the effort, leaving the public in the dark about the interests of those behind the media campaign.

An image of one CCNM report on the searchable state portal, with no donors listed.
The group filed registration documents on March 11 with the Secretary of State listing three individuals associated with the organization: Chevonne Alarid, Adam Silverman, and Kelli Monnheimer. The group hired Lincoln Strategy Group, an Arizona-based campaign firm aligned with the Republican Party. Nathan Sproul, founder of the group, previously served as the Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party.

But otherwise, there is little information about the group on its website or elsewhere, about who is responsible for or funding its electioneering activities.

“We must actively explore continued economic diversification, drive increased job growth and demand reforms to our tax structure,” reads the website, alongside references to New Mexico’s oil and gas sector and “key policy leaders” who have “wisely fought for fiscal discipline.”

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee and generally regarded as a fiscal conservative, was defeated by progressive challenger Neomi Martinez-Parra in June.

The Council for a Competitive New Mexico campaigned in favor of Smith and Democratic incumbents Richard C. Martinez, Gabriel Ramos, Joseph Cervantes, and Clemente Sanchez.

Simultaneously, the group spent money, according to its reports, on negative attacks against those hoping to unseat Smith, Martinez, Ramos and Sanchez — Martinez-Parra, Leo Jaramillo, Siah Correa Hemphill and Pam Cordova, respectively. The group also ran negative automatic phone calls to voters, or “robo-calls”, with one call claiming that “outside groups dedicated to tearing down other Democrats,” were supporting Correa Hemphill against her opponent, Sen. Gabriel Ramos.

The group flooded mailboxes with mailers. For instance, in May, CCNM sent negative mailers to voters comparing Martinez-Parra to President Donald Trump.

Other mailers were more positive, casting incumbent Democratic state senators as advocates for local businesses and families.

A positive mailer that was mailed to voters by CCNM. Image from Holguin ethics complaint..
All told, the group spent roughly $134,000 on its campaign.

Asked numerous times via phone and email, representatives of the Council for a Competitive New Mexico declined to disclose who had funded the campaign.

“As a newly formed 501c(4), we will follow all applicable laws, public disclosure requirements and filing timelines, as outlined by the Internal Revenue Service and the Secretary of State, as applicable,” wrote a representative of the organization in an unsigned email.

Reached by phone, Chevonne Alarid, who is registered as the President for the organization, said she didn’t have much information about the group.

“I am titled the President, but I likely don’t have the information that you’re requesting,” she said on Friday. She later referred New Mexico In Depth to Adam Silverman, secretary of the group, for further information.

Silverman, who is the Vice President of the Albuquerque-area real estate developer Geltmore, LLC, declined to talk on the phone for this story, instead redirecting inquiries to an email account set up by the organization.

“The Council for a Competitive New Mexico has complied with the requirements of NMAC 1.10.13.11(C) in its filings,” the group subsequently stated in an unsigned email from that account.

Chevonne Alarid said the group would file an annual report required of nonprofits. “It’s an allegation that would likely have no basis,” she said of the ethics complaint.

While Alarid was referring to federal IRS rules governing disclosure by 501(c)4 organizations, the ethics complaint alleges the group violated state election laws. Those laws require groups not registered with the state as political action committees that spend over a certain amount of money to influence elections to disclose their expenditures and donors within days of the activity.

Citing the state laws, the ethics complaint emphasizes that the nonprofit group’s spending falls under the state’s definition of such independent expenditures, and that because the spending exceeded $3,000, donor disclosure is required.

“Over $100,000 got spent on these elections, very close to the election, and in ways that are not easy for voters or campaigns to know who was behind them,” said Holguin.

Potential penalties named by the complaint include a civil penalty of up to $20,000– $1,000 per violation– as well as a misdemeanor if it can be shown that the group “knowingly and willfully” violated New Mexico’s election code.

“The Secretary of State takes allegations such as these very seriously and all complaints received by our Office go through an internal process to determine if a violation has occurred,” wrote spokesman Alex Curtas in an email. “We will review the allegations, pull any internal documentation or reports we may have and do a thorough analysis.”

Curtas said that if the complaint required further investigation, the Secretary of State will make a referral to the State Ethics Commission.

Special Interests

In her ethics complaint, Holguin wrote that she believed Vanessa Alarid is involved with CCNM. In a text message, Holguin pointed to close connections Alarid has with those running the CCNM group as well as similar groups that ran negative media campaigns in two other recent elections.

“Vanessa Alarid is a lobbyist who goes to great lengths to protect the interests of her corporate clients, namely the real estate conglomerate Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the owners of the controversial Santolina development,” Holguin said in the text message. “It seems she is often separated by one degree to PACs or IEs (independent expenditure) that go aggressively after candidates that oppose Santolina’s wishes.”

A prominent New Mexico lobbyist, Vanessa Alarid has long advocated for development interests in Albuquerque. Currently she is a registered lobbyist with the state as a lobbyist for both Garrett and Winrock Partners, LLC. She denied her involvement in CCNM in a text message, and declined to comment further.

Vanessa Alarid and others in conversation at the conclusion of a presentation to the House Transportation, Public Works, and Capital Improvements committee in 2018 about proposed funding for Paseo del Volcan on the Albuquerque west side. Image: Danielle Prokop.
In the June primary and elections in 2016 and 2017 that Holguin referenced, new groups with generic, innocuous names abruptly appear near the end of an election period and run large negative media campaigns, and for a period of time the public is left in the dark about the interests behind the ads.

As New Mexico in Depth reported in 2016, a political action committee called “New Mexicans for New Mexico” spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on billboards, canvassing, mailers and robocalls to boost then-Bernalillo County Commission candidates Steven Michael Quezada and Robert Chavez while criticizing Adrian Pedroza.

Most of that money came from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings and its asset manager, Jeffrey Garrett, but the public didn’t know that until final disclosure reports were filed a month after the election. And a lobbying report she filed more than three months after the election clarified Vanessa Alarid donated the bulk of the money to New Mexicans for New Mexico on behalf of Garrett Development Corporation.

Pedroza, an opponent of the controversial Santolina development, was ultimately defeated by Quezada.

The group’s treasurer, Donna Madrid-Taylor, told New Mexico In Depth in 2016 that the group had “accomplished what we were setting out to do” and was shuttered.

In 2017, a group called Make Albuquerque Safe began running negative TV ads and prominent billboards against Tim Keller, then a candidate for Albuquerque mayor. New Mexico in Depth reported in 2017 that Garrett Development Corporation contributed half of the $60,000 spent by the group. At that time, Vanessa Alarid was registered with both the City of Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico as a lobbyist for Garrett.

The group ran the ads about a week before campaign disclosure statements were due, and over the course of that week did not provide any information about who was behind the group, leaving the public in the dark initially.

Holguin has found herself on the opposite side of those efforts. A longtime Democratic campaign manager, she headed up an independent group called ABQ Forward Together that supported Tim Keller in the 2017 Albuquerque mayoral election. In 2016, Holguin was the campaign manager for Pedroza, Quezada’s primary opponent for a seat on the county commission.

Beyond her role as a lobbyist for Garrett, and in the case of the 2016 election, donating money to a committee on his behalf, Vanessa Alarid had other connections to the groups.

Madrid-Taylor, listed as the treasurer for both Make Albuquerque Safe and New Mexicans for New Mexico, worked at the time as a paralegal in the law offices of Jason Alarid, Vanessa Alarid’s first cousin (In a brief phone call Wednesday, Madrid-Taylor emphasized that she is no longer involved with the groups and now works solely as a realtor).

Alarid has similar family connections to the Council for a Competitive New Mexico.

The ethics complaint filed this week states that Vanessa Alarid is Chevonne Alarid’s sister-in-law.

In a text message, Vanessa Alarid clarified her relationship with Chevonne and denied any involvement in CCNM.

“She married my cousin and I know absolutely nothing about the CCNM. Neverheard [sic] about it,” she wrote. That cousin is Jason Alarid, who shares a downtown Albuquerque office space with his wife Chevonne’s own consulting firm, CLA Consulting.

Jason Alarid did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Chevonne denied Vanessa’s involvement in the group, as well.

Holguin said she hopes an investigation by the Secretary of State will shed light on who funded the political advertising. As for Alarid’s denial, she seemed skeptical. “The treasurers or listed agents for several PACs have been relatives or friends of relatives of Alarid’s,” she said. “Is it a coincidence? Maybe. But probably not.”

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