In New Mexico we have not only election watchers and observers, but ‘challengers’ which are generally sent out from the county political party (Republican and Democratic Party’s respectively). Challengers have the power to speak with the election board supervisor, which is called Presiding Judge in NM, and can ‘challenge’ ballots and bring things to the polling place’s election board so they will deal with it. I was a challenger during the 2010 general election and have had some interesting incidents and confrontations, but this election took it to a new height…not only during early voting, but on election day.
Polls open at 7AM in New Mexico on election day. Halfway through the morning a man (I’ll call him ‘Bobby’) arrived at the polling place where I was a challenger and declared he was from the county clerk’s office. He introduced himself to the presiding judge and asked if there had been any issues that morning. The presiding judge said there hadn’t been. The man immediately said challengers needed to be ten feet from the registration table. He saw the Democrat challenger was about twelve feet from the table on the far end of the room and marched over to me requesting that I move because I was closer than ten feet from the table. I had seen it coming. Bobby introduced himself and asked me to move. I had studied the NM election statutes I understood that I could legally be where I was and there was no law he could cite to make me move. He insisted, but left and returned with a tape measure. Yes, I was within ten feet of the table, but there is no law against that. The only restriction is that I am not in the way of voters or intimidating anyone. Any further from the table and I would have a difficult time hearing people declare who they were as they came in to vote.
We stepped outside the door of the building to discuss the matter. I read a few statutes to Bobby that outlined what challengers may and may not do. Challengers must be allowed to hear the voters declare their name and address verbally as voters present themselves to vote, but Bobby insisted that he had training and that he knew how things were to be done. According to him I was likely bothering voters, though the presiding judge had already said that everything was running smoothly. ‘Can you show me a law stating I must be X distance from the registration table, sir?’ He couldn’t and became angry commanding me to be civil and quiet while he talked (I hadn’t interrupted). He physically bumped me with his shoulder, then leaned forward until I had my back to the rail of the old community building’s porch– his face was about five inches from my face. He was raising his voice to a shout as he said that I knew nothing and didn’t have training in Santa Fe that he had for 50 years (he is in his 60′s). Bobby then threatened to make certain no young person like me would ever be a challenger again. I vaguely mentioned I had been trained, had been a challenger in 2010, and had studied the election law well, but he was only further infuriated by this.
As Bobby began to back out of my face he warned me that if he heard about one problem at my polling place he would throw me out. I promised to be careful and said neither the Democrat challenger or I hadn’t had any issues and I would hold to the law. He doubled down again and said if he heard one complaint from any voter at this polling place he would come back, call the police and have me thrown out. I mentioned that I had a copy of the NM election handbook from the Secretary of State’s website and would be careful to follow it’s guidelines…At this, Bobby looked me in the face and said that the law wasn’t right and had been changed because ‘the Republican Secretary of State twists everything.’ And with that he marched off.
After the ordeal I looked around and an election judge (poll worker) came out of the building. After mentioning it was disappointing that I didn’t have a witness… the Democrat election judge said she had seen part of the incident including the part where Bobby had bragged about his training and said I knew nothing. Later the county clerk’s office called and informed me that Bobby was indeed working for the county clerk’s office and was making his rounds to polling places around the county to make sure there was no electioneering too close to the buildings.
Bobby has worked in the past for a state law-maker as an assistant and is well-connected. The county clerk’s election bureau director called me and was in full damage control mode. The presiding judge who was very overwhelmed (she was younger than I) informed me that if Bobby came back, the poll workers had orders to call the police. Not completely reassuring, but…
I got along well with the Democrats that Tuesday except for Bobby. Earlier that morning I had discovered that my vehicle had a flat tire after I attempted to move it around the block (lesson learned, always park in a visible location, who knows what actually happened…). The Democrat poll watcher graciously offered his services and assisted me in changing the tire.
This was my election day experience!!
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For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12