This Tuesday, Rio Rancho voters can choose from 17 voting convenience centers if they plan to exercise their constitutional right. In 2012, they had just five.
This should mean Gov. Susana Martinez won’t have to hand out pizza and water to people stranded in long lines as she did in 2012 when, according to a federal judge, inadequate resources and the actions of the former Sandoval County clerk and the current elections director contributed to some voters waiting up to five hours after polls closed. The lines resulted in the disenfranchisement of many who simply gave up before voting, he ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge William P. Johnson in September called the 2012 election a “debacle” and a “complete disaster,” and the County Commission in 2013 had already passed a resolution requiring 17 voting convenience centers in Rio Rancho and two in Corrales.
Johnson had granted a preliminary injunction ordering Election Bureau Director Eddie Gutierrez and current Clerk Eileen Garbagni to comply with the commission resolution. He ruled that the deliberate actions of Garbagni, Gutierrez and former Clerk Sally Padilla contributed to a significant number of Rio Rancho voters being disenfranchised.
Johnson also expressed displeasure about the attitudes toward voting shown by the Sandoval County officials. In his order he said Garbagni, who called the 2012 election “very good,” was in “complete denial” about how it really went. He called Padilla “defiant” in saying her office did not make any errors in the election. He said Gutierrez’s testimony seems to imply he blames the voters who got out of line for their inability to vote.
Although Gutierrez and Garbagni, who was Padilla’s deputy, have said they will comply with the resolution, Johnson told them he was going to hold them to it, partly because they “refuse to accept the significance of the failures of the 2012 election.” Under state law, the county clerk cannot change polling locations within four months of an election without getting an order from a state district court judge.
But despite this stinging dressing down by the federal judge, Garbagni and Gutierrez have continued to press their case and have appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and twice brought motions for a speedy hearing. The motions, which were denied, claimed that if the court did not hear the case before the election, they would not have any meaningful right of appellate review.
They are asking the Court of Appeals to consider whether the U.S. District Court erred in concluding that two of the defendants – Republican candidates who lost to Democrats in 2012 in tight races – had legal standing to pursue their claim. They also question whether the court used the correct legal standard regarding the claim. Apparently, they are concerned that if the injunction stands the county will have to pay the suing parties’ attorney fees.
Garbagni and Gutierrez aren’t serving the voters of Rio Rancho and the county by playing legal games when their prior actions were clearly found to be deficient and to have cost some voters their most precious right to vote. They should admit their fault and give up this fight. And put all their energy into making sure this kind of preventable disaster doesn’t happen again under their watch.