San Miguel County residents waited in long lines to vote in the Democratic caucus Tuesday, with some just giving up and not voting.
According to the results, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won with more than 60 percent of the vote in Mora and San Miguel counties. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama got nearly all the rest of the votes.
Statewide, Obama and Clinton were locked in a tight race, with 98 percent of precincts reporting.
San Miguel Democratic Party chairman Martin Suazo said he was pleased with the extremely high turnout but lamented the fact that voters were having to wait an excessive amount of time to cast their ballots. Many voters waited for more than an hour in line.
“This is only the second time the party has run the election. If the decision is made that the party continue to oversee the caucus, it will get better,” Suazo said.
The secretary of state runs primaries and elections, but the caucus is run by the Democratic Party.
Suazo said he favors keeping the February caucus. “But let the professionals run it,” referring to the secretary of state and county clerks.
He said he was highly impressed with the turnout but wished the party could have been more accommodating. He said larger venues were used in hopes of cutting down the wait times and said at least this year, people could stand in line indoors.
Voting didn’t begin until noon and many voters were wondering why there were voters from 11 precincts trying to vote at the city recreation center and eight at the county courthouse, instead of using more venues to cut down the lines.
Grumbling was especially high at the recreation center where people were leaving without voting. Some Democrats decided to volunteer to help with the caucus after experiencing the chaotic situation while voting.
Before the caucus, the state Democratic Party made little effort at publicity, issuing a press release only last week. That resulted in much confusion. Even City Hall was getting call after call from frustrated Democrats.
County Clerk Paul Maez, who had no official role in the caucus, said voters were lining up at the courthouse before 10 a.m., although voting didn’t begin until noon. He said people seemed to be very interested in this year’s caucus.
According to Democratic Party results, 15 percent of the 3,549 ballots were provisional because people’s names weren’t on the voter lists.
Those ballots would be sent to Albuquerque, where their validity would be determined, officials said. Some people who had to fill out provisional ballots have had the same voter registration addresses for years. For instance, Naomi Montoya of Tecolote said she has lived at her place for 11 years but still had to do a provisional ballot. In fact, she ran from that address as a state representative candidate in 2006.
Maez said he wasn’t sure where the Democratic Party got its list, possibly at the secretary of state’s office in Santa Fe.
In Mora County, more than half of the 752 ballots cast were provisional.
Pat Leahan, a Las Vegan who belongs to Verified Voting New Mexico and United Voters of New Mexico, said she was concerned about the high number of provisional ballots. She said questions should be directed to the secretary of state’s office and the company that owns and runs the voter registration database.
“New Mexico has a bad record in counting provisional ballots. Only 50 percent were counted in the 2006 election,” Leahan said. “This is one of the reasons people are being disenfranchised at the polling place.”
Maez said he wanted the public to know that the county clerk’s office had nothing to do with the caucus process.
“We get involved just to help out the party. Everything came from the Democratic Party of New Mexico — we ran out of envelopes for provisional ballots, but we are going to try to accommodate the voter by another process that we can utilize.”
Thomas Espinoza said he went to the polls at the courthouse during his noon lunch hour. He waited an hour and a half and gave up before he got the chance to vote because he had to go back to work.
“The lines are ridiculous,” said Espinoza, who added he wasn’t going to try to vote after work. “I’m not going to put up with that again.”
He said his 90-year-old father, Benito Espinoza, also left before getting to vote.
“He has never missed a vote in his life. He was disgusted,” his son said.
Gwendolynne Mares said she was able to vote twice at the recreation center to test whether the caucus’ procedures were adequate. She said all she had to do was sign her name and then go to another line.
“They don’t give you a paper to say, ‘Here’s a paper at least to give to the man that you give your ballot.’”
When she walked out after her first vote, Mares wondered what would stop her from voting again. She did just that, adding that her second vote canceled the first.
Most voters interviewed at the courthouse favored Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the presidential caucus.
“I remember how things were when her husband was president. Things were prosperous,” Kandee Gallegos said.
“It was a really hard decision,” said Linda Martinez. “Obama and Hillary have the same issues.”
But she said Hillary Clinton will have the assistance of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. “Two heads are better than one.”
Martinez said Obama is young and needs more experience. But she added that both candidates would help Hispanics.
“I just made my decision now,” she said.
Stanley McCrossen said he thinks Obama is the better choice.
“We’re in dire straits. We need someone to clean it up — the whole setup,” he said.
Melo Lujan said he favors Obama.
“He has similar plans to Hillary, but he’s more sincere in helping people from the middle to lower economic class through tax cuts and health insurance. And he would be a good international leader, especially for those countries who don’t see us in a good light,” he said.
Chad Matey is not registered with any political party, so he couldn’t vote in the Democratic caucus. But he didn’t know that until he was informed after waiting in line for more than a half hour.
He would have voted for Obama.
“He has a very diplomatic approach. He has what it takes to do damage control — what George Bush created,” Matey said.