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"You [Mess]ed Up - You Trusted Us": NM's Registration Form Shortage

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[Image courtesy of IMCDB]

There's a great scene near the end of the popular (not sure if I can call it a classic) film Animal House where young Flounder, a freshman, discovers that his brother's beloved Lincoln Continental (above - still intact) has been wrecked by older members of the Delta House. As he stands there weeping in frustration, one of them turns to him and says "Flounder, you can't spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You [mess]ed up... you trusted us!" [Emphasis added - and yes, I did clean that up.]

For some reason, that scene popped into my head this week as I read about a shortage of English-language voter registration forms in New Mexico. According to KOB4:

We have a Presidential election coming up, with thousands of people who want to sign up to vote in New Mexico, however, there's one big problem: We're running out of voter registration cards in counties all across the state.

It started out as a good idea: The state would save taxpayers' money by printing its own voter registration forms instead of hiring a private contractor.

Trouble is they haven't been able to keep up with demand.

New Mexico Vote Matters and other nonprofit get-out-the-vote groups are just flat out of voter registration cards in English. That's because the Bernalillo County Clerk hasn't had any for most of the month. It's the same issue for clerks in Otero, McKinley, Eddy, Lea and Socorro Counties.

"Some of our voter registration agents have actually lost New Mexicans that have been wanting to register and get on the voting rolls," Oriana Sandoval of Vote Matters said. "We don't have the necessary materials and the forms in English for them to sign. People are uncomfortable signing state documents they don't fully understand in Spanish and that's reasonable. If we don't have the basic materials that are required we are doing a disservice to the democratic process."

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver thought she was ahead of the game by getting her order in early to the Secretary of State's Office, which is in charge of printing the cards.

"We anticipated that early on, " Oliver said. "Early in January we placed a large order. We have periodically received parts of that order, but to be honest we have experienced a shortage here in Bernalillo County. For the last month, we've been basically down to zero."

Ten thousand forms came into Toulouse Oliver's office yesterday - a fraction of what they need.

The Secretary of State's Office says there will be more next month.

One of the new challenges that confronts election officials in the current fiscal/regulatory environment is the classic make/buy decision for goods and services. I've written in the past about the problems that sometimes occur with the choice to "buy," when vendors can't, won't or don't do what election officials expect.

This, on the other hand, illustrates the potential downside of the "make" choice. Here, the state has agreed (promised, really) to fulfill a basic need in the electoral process - printed registration forms - and is unable to come through. The resulting disruption and frustration for local officials threatens to make an already high-stress election even more so.

The lesson for jurisdictions across the country is clear: If you decide to make instead of buy, be sure you can make what you're not buying. Otherwise, election officials risk kicking themselves for [mess]ing up by trusting that they would get what they need.

3 Comments


  • Why can't more be printed at the local level? We do that in Ohio.

  • I don't know the specific answer, but I'm willing to bet it's some combination of law, money and capacity.

  • Perhaps they need to think about starting to modernize their registration system. Their neighbor, Arizona, has had a secure method of registering online for 10 years. Detailed information is at http://tinyurl.com/OLVRWI
    Other states with similar systems are Washington, Kansas, Oregon, Colorado, Louisiana, Utah, Indiana, and Nevada.

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