Finchers Save the Day in New Mexico (Sort Of)

 written by Gary L. Fincher

August 22, 2000

 

As you might recall, Kay and I went to New Mexico in 1998 to manage a statewide campaign that would earn the Libertarian Party of NM major party status in the eyes of the State of NM.  That campaign, the Maurice McDonald for Commissioner of Public Lands campaign, won over 5% of the vote cast for governor.  The chairman of the McDonald campaign, Joseph Knight, assured us that the 5% could be garnered by any candidate, governor or not, as long as it was equal to 5% of the votes cast in the race for governor.  This was why we were brought in in the first place, Kay as fundraising director and I as campaign manager:  to see to it that McDonald won enough votes that were equal to 5% of the votes cast in the race for governor.  This was accomplished in November 1998.

 

 

Registering Libertarian voters at a Kmart in Albuquerque, N.M.,  in Dec. 1999

Registering Libertarian voters at a Kmart in Albuquerque, N.M., in Dec. 1999

 

The other prerequisite for earning major party status, in addition to the 5% requirement, was holding one-third of one percent of the total voter registration in the State of New Mexico.  That meant that we needed a couple of thousand voter registrations, and we already held over 1,000.  In the spring of 1999, when Kay and I were in town for court appearances stemming from getting arrested for wearing Libertarian clothing at the 1998 polls in Santa Fe, we collected about 250 Libertarian voter registrations.  This entailed positioning ourselves in front of a busy store or a prime spot on a college campus and asking NM residents if they would fill out a voter registration containing “Libertarian” in the Party Preference space.

 

The state party down in New Mexico then let most of 1999 go by without making a dent in the registration requirement, while Kay and I delivered motor homes for most of the spring and the summer, and then worked on ballot initiatives in California and in Massachusetts.  The state party members in NM, except for manning a booth at the NM State Fair in the fall, for some reason never were moved to collect the registrations which needed to be completed by January 2000.

 

By October, just as I was receiving my eye disease diagnosis, we were being called by Joseph Knight, who had since been elected chairman of the NM LP, to come to NM. to collect the registrations.  There were in fact only a handful of activists in the entire United States with the expertise to collect Libertarian registrations by the dozens in a day, which was what would be needed in order to make the deadline.  The national Libertarian Party headquarters also was pleading with us to travel to NM, but we couldn’t make the trip right away due to my eye condition and treatment schedule in Indiana.

 

By November, the NM LP needed approximately 1,200 Libertarian voter registrations by early January in order to earn major party status, according to Joseph Knight.  So it was that around Thanksgiving, with my doctor allowing me to leave Indiana for only two weeks, Kay and I drove to Albuquerque right after a heavy treatment on my left eye (it was swollen and sore for a while).  She drove the entire distance, a three-day drive.

 

A local Libertarian who lived in Rio Rancho (15 ml. north of Albuquerque) offered us the use of his pad while we collected voter registrations.  For a couple of days in late November, Kay worked solo at a Kmart persuading shoppers to stop and fill out a voter registration with “Libertarian” already written in (by us) in the Party Preference space.  In early December, when the blurriness in my eye had abated, I joined her in her efforts.

 

Some of those we asked to fill out the form were already registered, with another party, but we persuaded them to fill out another one, a Libertarian one this time.  Many more were not registered at all and we asked them if they would register “Libertarian” as they registered.  Some had been registered Libertarian in another state and were simply renewing their status for N.M.  We used a table, adorned with a laminated display telling New Mexicans that we needed 1,200 additional Libertarian voter registrations in order to qualify for major party status, with the invitation, “Please Help” in plain view.

 

On December 2, Kay and I promptly got sick, coming down with the worst case of flu/pneumonia that we had ever experienced.  This laid us up for over a week, forcing us to face a decision:  stay or go back to Indiana.   We were asked to stay and work on the drive, to finish it before the deadline. So I called my doctor and rescheduled my treatment, reluctantly.

 

 

 

Christmas 1999 in Albuquerque

A day off: Christmas 1999 in Albuquerque

In mid-December, we set about in earnest collecting the registrations, mostly at Wal-Marts and Kmarts in Albuquerque.  We collected anywhere from 50 to 110 registrations per day, or 10-15 per hour, just stopping shoppers on their way into the store.

 

My new treatment date was set for a couple of days before Christmas, but Ron Crickenberger, national political director for the Libertarian Party, called me to ask me if I could reschedule my doctor appointment again, in order to get the drive done on time, which I did, against my better judgment.  I feared there would be health repercussions for doing so, but I also wanted the drive to succeed and didn’t want to let anyone down.

 

A couple of days before Christmas, “all hell broke loose”, as is said when a catastrophic event leads to a degeneration of subsequent events.   At the same time that Ron Bjornstad, NM registration drive coordinator, issued a warning against pre-labeling the forms “Libertarian”, Albuquerque’s NBC affiliate. KOB-TV, carried a story on the evening news that “500 New Mexicans had recently been tricked into changing their registration to Libertarian.”  The story of course, was completely false.  The segment, which aired twice that evening, included an interview with a lady who had signed up at an Albuquerque Kmart but who charged that we told her that the form was a petition rather than a voter registration form.  The newscast even went so far as to show footage of a petition form.

 

Of course, Kay and I operated completely on the “up and up” and never used the word “petition” to describe what we were asking for.  No one was ever tricked or lied to, yet KOB-TV was doing a newscast as if it were fact!  This got our dander up for certain and we called the station to complain and curse the story.  Upon further investigation, we found that 300 registration forms had been mailed to the Bernalillo County Board of Elections on the same day that coordinator Ron Bjornstad hand-delivered 200 of them, creating a total of 500 registrations, all with “Libertarian” in the party space, that the Board of Elections was asked to process.  For reasons still unknown to us, the Board of Elections balked at so many Libertarian registrations and told KOB- TV that they were all fraudulently obtained.

 

That allegation led to a series of bad moves both on the part of the state and on the part of the NM Libertarian Party.  The state, of course, stiffened their resistance to our Libertarian endeavor of registering one-third of one percent of all NM voters.  But instead of sticking up for Kay and me (who had collected 99% of the 500 registrations dumped that day), Joseph Knight made a series of blunders, baffling and annoying Libertarians from coast-to-coast, especially those who know better about Kay and me, our allies in the field.

 

First, Knight acted as if he was in full support of Kay and me – until we had to leave the state on New Year’s Eve in order to return to my Jan. 5 eye appointment in Indiana.  Upon leaving the state, Knight turned on us, hiring a buddy of his from his hometown, a former cop and magistrate judge (see related story is this issue on what cops and magistrate judges are capable of when teamed together to pummel a hapless defendant) turned private detective to “investigate” us, or more accurately, to get testimony second-hand, from those who had registered with us.

 

Unbeknownst to us at the time, an official from the Bernalillo County Board of Elections had come to our site and posed as a prospective registrant.  Although I didn’t know who he was at the time, I kept trying to persuade him to register “Libertarian” when he insisted that registering “Republican” might be good enough for our purposes there.  It wasn’t, of course, and I told him straight that we can only qualify for major party status if he would register “Libertarian”, nothing else.  When interviewed by the PI, the PI used this fact as “proof that we obtained fraudulent registrations.”

Investigative Report – January 7, 2000

Interview:
Robert Lucero
Bureau of Elections Coordinator
Bernalillo County
505-768-4104

Mr. Lucero stated that he had personally gone to the sight [sic] where the Finchers were registering voters and posed as a potential registrant.

Mr. Lucero stated that he had asked the Finchers many questions concerning their efforts and received many answers he considered in violation of the election code.

Mr. Lucero stated that he asked if they were only signing up “Libertarians” or could he sign up as a “Republican” to which he stated that Mr. Fincher told him “that would defeat their purpose.”

Mr. Lucero stated that he had contacted the District Attorney’s office concerning possible violations of the Election Code and that they would be doing an investigation also.

Mr. Lucero furnished me with (2) letters written in reference to the situation and they are included in this report.

Mr. Lucero seemed a little hesitant to discuss an ongoing investigation with this investigator but did say that he had heard that they were “also having problems with the Libertarian Party registration in Las Cruces.”

However, we were astonished to learn, from reading the PI’s report, that it contained the “testimonies” of over a dozen voters, all containing fallacious information that would be very damning to us, had it been true.  We quickly concluded that these “testimonies” were the result of leading questions by an unscrupulous former cop experienced in “testi-lying” and who had the strongest motivation to come back to his client with “something” as opposed to “nothing.”

 

A display on our table even advises voters that they are filling out a voter registration form

A display on our table even advises voters that they are filling out a voter registration form

When the report was released, Joseph Knight issued a press release basically saying that it was the LP of NM’s position that Kay and I did mislead voters, or fraudulently obtain them, which led to the headline that is still unbelievable to me, in the Albuquerque Journal: LIBERTARIANS ADMIT VOTERS MISLED.

 

 

 

The State of NM [made up predominately of Democrats and Republicans] now had fuel for their fire in its war on the LP.  Most Libertanans however weren’t so swayed.

 

LPNM Voter Reg Drive Coordinator Ron Bjornstad, who confirmed that we legitimately registered voters.

LPNM Voter Reg Drive Coordinator Ron Bjornstad, who confirmed that we legitimately registered voters.

 

 

 Michael Morrison, who had flown in from Georgia to help in the registration drive, and who actually was there and watched us in action in Albuquerque, set out on an internet crusade to set the record straight, to tell fellow LPers that we in fact collected all the registrations legitimately.  What followed was an inspiring string of supporters from California to Maine, all vouching for Kay and me, and our straightforward and honest methods.  Soon all kinds of Libertarians were sending e-mail messages to the folks in NM and at national HQ on our behalf.  It was quite moving.

 

Since December, much has been said on the internet, in discussion groups and such, regarding the New Mexico fiasco.  But the bottom line is that, by the time Kay and I left NM on Dec. 31, we had collected 1,100 of the 1,200 registrations needed.  The rest were collected by volunteers and by other pro activists flown in.  But there’s a caveat: in the spring of this year, as the case of major party status went to court, it was ruled that the registrations the State Elections Divisions tried so hard to discount, had to be counted; however, the 5%, it was ruled, had to have been garnered in the race for governor, no other race would count (not even land commissioner).  This begs the question:  why wouldn’t Joseph Knight as chairman of the McDonald campaign, have done his homework and learned of this before he had us make the trip to N.M. in 1998?

 

Related:

 

Watch Kay & me work on the 1999 registration drive in Albuquerque, as Ron Bjornstad did:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdIdgHvILOc

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