Its time to bite the bullet and start spilling the beans. Here is my problem with Mary Herrera (and Rebecca Vigil-Giron); during the 2004 election approximately 13,000 provisional and in-lieu of absentee ballots were cast in Bernalillo County, of which about 6,500 were rejected. The grounds for rejection varied depending on the type of ballot cast.
While thousands of ballots got tossed because voters either failed to sign an affidavit, provide id or register to vote all together, hundreds of voters in Bernalillo had their ballots disqualified for failing to include their middle initial when signing their ballot.
In fact, if there was any discrepancy between the way the voter signed their name on their voter registration application and the way they signed their name on their ballot, their vote was disqualified.
In the days after the election, the question was whether or not those ballots with the slight discrepancies would be disqualified or not. Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, who’s public service announcements had significantly increased the number of provisional ballots cast as result of her publicity campaign, provided county clerks with guidance as to how to handle provisional ballots where the voters’ signature on the ballot differed from that on their voter registration form. The Secretary of State’s guidance, to the best of my recollection, left the decision to include or disqualify such ballots largely to the discretion of the county clerks.
In Bernalillo County, Mary Herrera and her legal team chose to interpret both election law and the Secretary of State’s letter in the narrowest terms possible, choosing to disqualify those ballots.
However, during a meeting between Mary Herrera’s legal team and an attorney working on behalf of the Democratic Party (a hero), the Bernalillo County Clerk was urged to seek clarification from the office of the Secretary of State before disqualifying any ballots due to such minor discrepancies.
None-the-less, after conferring with her attorneys for a brief moment, Ms. Herrera decided not to seek clarification from the Secretary of State’s office and disqualified en mass the ballots with the missing initials.
My problem with the Bernalillo County Clerks decision, both then and now, was that rather than give the benefit of the doubt to the voter—that the absence of a middle initial did not mean the voter was not who they said they were, or allow those voters whose ballots were in question to appear at the clerks office with the valid id to rescue their vote from jeopardy, Mary Herrera chose instead to interpret the election code in such a narrow manner as to prevent the majority of provisional ballots from becoming qualified votes.
And when it comes to interpreting election law, it must be interpreted in such a manner as to afford the voter every opportunity under the law to have their vote counted. After my experience in 2004, I cannot in good conscious support Mary Herrera for Secretary of State.
Ms. Herrera may say she her decision was justified based on code, in my opinion, the Bernalillo County Clerk’s decision reflected an approach to the management of elections and an attitude towards voters, that fundamentally contradicts the principles and rights the Secretary of State is charged with defending as the chief election official in the state.