Submitted by Johnnie R. Aldrich, Member, League of Women Voters of Greater Las Cruces.

     Members of the Dona Ana County Election Review Panel convened in the new County Complex Multi-purpose Conference room on Thursday, 6 July, 2006. 

    Members of the Panel (PM’s) include Judy Baker, Lynn Ellins, Sid Goddard, Vicky Harder, Connie Lee, David Leutz, María Silva-Sutton, and Melinda Whitley.  Appointee Felicia Ybarra was the only PM who missed this first meeting.  County Clerk Rita Torres and Election Bureau official Cecelia Madrid, who will serve as liaison between the Panel and the Clerk’s office, also attended the meeting.  Recent arrival Bob Hearn and I were the only observers at this first meeting, but the meetings ARE open to the public.

    Interestingly, and in contrast to what seems to be public opinion on the make-up of the Panel, at least 5 of the members are former poll workers.  One has served as a presiding judge for many years.  The two lawyers, both with wide experience in election law, were helpful in determining that the Panel is not subject to the Open Meetings Law because its purpose is not to set public policy but to generate recommendations for presentation to the County Commissioners.

    This long-awaited Election Review Panel is in session at last, in great part, due to the efforts of our own President Connie Lee.  It was she who, within days of learning of her appointment, set the time, arranged for the meeting room, called the other PM’s with notification of the first meeting, arranged for PM’s to have copies of the 290-page ELECTION HANDBOOK OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO, and chaired the first hour of the meeting.

    Connie set the tone by introducing herself, in the process declaring firmly that “This must be a non-partisan activity.” In the self-introductions that followed, many of the panelists, even those with well-known partisan ties, expressed their own desire to put first the interests of ALL voters so that Doña Ana County voters could re-gain confidence in the integrity of our voting process and procedures.

 County Clerk Rita Torres expressed her gratitude for the Panel’s help in organizing the vote for the November 2006 General Election, saying that she was expecting extensive changes but had not yet been notified of specifics by the NM Secretary of State’s office. County Clerks, for example, have not yet received the Election Calendar, a document that sets out procedures and deadlines for each stage of conducting an election.

Considerable discussion time was devoted to getting to the specifics of the mandate given the Panel by Commissioner McCamley, who, apparently, especially wanted a study of pre-election policy, the selection of poll workers, and post-election counting and reporting procedures.  Final consensus was that the Panel is to first investigate the source of the problem, gathering as many specifics as possible in the process, analyze the data collected, perhaps in sub-committees, and then write up the recommendations in summary form.

PM’s requested and received from Clerk Torres permission to interview employees of her office and of the Election Bureau in an attempt to determine the extent of their training and preparedness for their positions.  The Panel also hopes to determine whether the Clerk’s office has adequate resources to run an election competently.

Other topics suggested for investigation included voter registration; the confusing, often contradictory instructions given to presiding judges (and the same qualities in the Election Law itself); and the need for county offices to communicate with each other.  One PM suggested that it should be possible for the Assessors’ or Treasurer’s Office to notify the County Clerk of deaths or address changes in the county.

Reference was made by more than one PM to the short time (7 weeks) available to the Panel to do its work since Commissioners have requested the final report by September.

Thus, the Panel will meet every week:  Thursdays, 4:00-5:30 p.m.

At least 2 public meetings are scheduled, the first of these at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, 22 July, in the County Complex Multi-purpose Conference Room.  At this time the Panel will receive input from the community.

Republican María Silva-Sutton and Democrat Lynn Ellins were elected as co-chairs. Bob Hearn, also present as an observer, offered his services to the Panel as a Recording Secretary and liaison for collecting and collating data.  The Panel members accepted his offer.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:36 p.m.