No great moment comes without toil. As proof, before Michael Moore was introduced to an exuberant crowd of 7,500 people at The Pit on Sunday, he was subjected to a press conference with our local media. Just minutes, in fact, before Moore walked across the Pit floor to his podium, greeted by a sustained standing ovation, he had to contemplate this inane question from a local TV newsman: "Why do people like George W. Bush?"
Sporting a red UNM Lobos baseball hat and his trademark baggy jeans and sneakers, Moore, fatigued from a lingering case of bronchitis, made the most of the moment. "For the same reason they like Ferris Bueller," he said, referring to the 1986 film staring Matthew Broderick. "He never did his work in school and never got caught. (Bush) never worked a day in his life and then they made him president. Who wouldn't want that? That is so Ferris Bueller."
But while Moore knows how to deliver a punch line, his stated purpose on Sunday night was not to entertain the converts, but to penetrate the minds of the very few in the audience who might be considering a vote for independent candidate Ralph Nader. If there's one thing that gets under Moore's skin, it's Nader, and by proxy anybody willing to cast a vote for him this year. In fact, the first words Moore uttered at his press conference were "366 votes last time," referring to Democrat Al Gore's margin of victory. "I can't think of a more important place to be. I have a special message for my fellow Naderites tonight."
That special message, it turned out, could be summed up in four words: Vote Kerry, not Nader. But that's not to say Moore didn't ramble in various directions, covering a range of topics in the same way he edits his films – with humor, outrage and pathos seemingly all at once.
Naturally, the show featured Moore mocking the president as an ill-informed yokel. Like the way Republicans howl at the mention of Democrat John Kerry as a flip-flopper, this theme never seems to get old with Moore. He called President Bush's facial expressions during the first presidential debate, "Three Stooges doubletakes." He said Bush showed up for the 90-minute debate with five minutes of material. He ridiculed the president for referring to a rumor about the draft posted on the "Internets."
"Where's the second Internet?" Moore said. "I want that. Mine's too slow."
Moore joked about the draft at one point, then later spoke on the topic soberly, saying: "Do the math. They have run out of troops. I'm telling you right now, Bush, if elected, is going to bring back the draft."
He asked if there were any Republicans in the house. To the few faint claps, Moore said, "Welcome, we admire you." Then he proceeded to explain why, calling Bush's supporters relentless, organized and well-funded. "You operate like sharks that never stop moving. You're up at dawn trying to figure out what minority group shouldn't be allowed to marry," he said.
From there Moore screened a series of mocking, and at times hilarious, faux campaign ads that highlighted the military service records of Bush and Kerry.
He talked about Fox News, pharmaceutical companies (the subject of his next movie) and Richard Nixon, to name a few.
Moore then segued into another video presentation, this time a five-minute clip of President Bush addressing the media following his interview with the 9/11 Commission. Moore set up the scene saying Bush opposed formation of the commission, refused to testify under oath, insisted he and Dick Cheney appear together and refused to allow the session to be recorded, transcribed or witnessed by the media. Then he showed the press conference, an unfiltered clip of Bush's inarticulate stonewalling, and Moore lamented that the press conference got little attention from the network news.
Then, as he was about to begin reading from his new book, "Will They Ever Trust Us Again? Letters From the War Zone," a compilation of letters and e-mails from troops in Iraq and their families in the United States, a genuine slacker uprising from the audience interrupted Moore. A young woman challenged his support for Kerry, calling him a pro-war, pro-Patriot Act candidate. She heckled her theme loudly, without restraint, for several minutes. Her persistence inflamed Moore to the point he was yelling in the microphone: "Bush must go! What part of that don't you get?" Moore said Nader won a moral victory in 2000 by forcing the 2004 Democratic primary to veer away from Gore's conservative leanings and toward a more progressive agenda. He said Nader should "accept that victory and go home." He pleaded with the woman "to vote with us just this once and we'll all be on Kerry's ass Nov. 3, just for you." The woman was not swayed, nor deterred. She kept shouting her opposition to Kerry, and Moore kept firing back. He accused Nader voters of selfishness, of wanting to feel good about themselves, while ignoring the plight of troops in Iraq. He scorned Nader as an egotist. "It's all about Ralph," Moore said. "I'm so fucking sick of it right now," and he threw his pen on the podium.
The confrontation, however, dissolved into another playful skit as Moore's volunteers passed out bags of Ramen and underwear to slackers who didn't vote four years ago, but vowed to vote for Kerry this year.
After the show, Adam Hernandez, 42, a father, and one-half of a politically mixed marriage, said this year marks the first time in his life a political yard sign stands in front of his house. He said he's a moderate Democrat, his wife of 12 years is a Republican and still undecided, and they usually keep their political viewpoints to themselves. "This is such a big deal," Hernandez said. "The Iraq war pisses me off, but Bush is also bad on the environment and he's secretive."
Mario Trujillo, a 19-year-old TVI student, said he registered to vote on the day he turned 18. He said he wasn't worried about the draft, because he planned to join the Air Force after college. "But I don't want to go on a mission where I question its purpose," Trujillo said. "You can find anywhere on the corner somebody willing to die for our country. But we've been misled into believing the war in Iraq was necessary. Our freedom isn't in danger. Compared to other countries, we've got it made.
Here's a recipe for some long-winded arguing. Start with concerns over voter fraud and disenfranchisement, mix in some partisanship and accusations of bureaucratic incompetence, add a team of Republican and Democratic lawyers and let cook in a Bernalillo County courtroom.
That was the backdrop last week for two days of legal wrangling that left Judge Robert L. Thompson "thinking out loud" at 5 p.m. on Friday about whether or not to require newly registered voters to show I.D. at the polls this election season.
"This could create a major incident in the orderly conduct of the elections," the judge said before recessing for the three-day Labor Day weekend.
After the court heard closing arguments on Tuesday, Judge Thompson announced he would deny the Republicans' request that all new voters registered by a third party be required to show I.D. at the polls.
"The process will remain the same," said Democratic Party lead attorney, Jon Boyd, "Voters will not have to prove entitlement to vote if they are properly registered."
In other words, the court ruled that only first-time voters who registered by mail will be required to show identification at the polls. Other first time registrants, including the tens of thousands who have been registered by a third party at concerts, movie theaters and shopping malls, will not have to show a valid I.D. on election day.
"It's mystifying," said Republican state Sen. Rod Adair, while passing out a Republican Party sponsored statewide poll indicating the public overwhelming supports all voters to show I.D. "The key thing going on here is the public wants fair elections."
Free and Open Elections
At the heart of the matter was a state law that went into effect on July 1, 2003, that says: "If (a voter registration) form is not submitted in person by the applicant and the applicant is registering for the first time in New Mexico, the applicant must submit with the form a copy of a current and valid photo identification, utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the name and address of the applicant; and if the applicant does not submit the required identification, he will be required to do so when he votes in person or absentee."
Seven plaintiffs, including Republican state Rep. Larry Larranaga and Steve Cabiedes, the Green Party candidate for Bernalillo County Clerk, signed a complaint alleging Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera and Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron have violated the plaintiffs' rights to a "free and open" election.
Republican attorney Pat Rogers, arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the statute requires all newly registered voters who didn't register in-person at a county clerk's office to show I.D. at the polls or include a photocopied I.D. with an absentee ballot. The law is "crystal clear," Rogers told Judge Thompson.
However, the New Mexico Bureau of Elections, which operates under the secretary of state, notified county clerks across New Mexico months ago that only those residents who registered by mail will be required to show I.D. at the polls this year.
Since July 2003, more than 112,000 newly registered voters have been added to the voter polls in New Mexico, or more than 10 percent of the state electorate. Tens of thousands of these new voters were signed up by a third party organization such as Youth Voters Alliance, New Voters Project and Rock the Vote, whose workers hand delivered the tens of thousands of registration forms to the County Clerk's office this year. These forms were then labeled "walked-in."
Voter registration forms require a birth date, social security number, mailing address (P.O. Box doesn't count) and a signature to be accepted by the County Clerk, said Herrera. No form of photo I.D. is necessary unless the form arrives by mail, which requires a photocopied driver's license.
Once these requirements are met, newly registered voters should receive in the mail a voter registration card from the County Clerk office, which includes the poll location where the voter will cast a ballot on election day. Meanwhile, the registration form is transferred to the secretary of state's office, which crosschecks the social security number with the name listed. If the name and social security number don't match, the form will be invalidated and the registrant will be removed from the voting rolls, which eliminates the need for a photo I.D., said Herrera.
The County Clerk's office makes no distinction between a third party handing over voter registration forms and the actual individual whose name appears on the form. Either way, the form is stamped "walked in" – a procedure the Republicans strongly objected to, if I.D. is not required at the polls.
According to Denise Lamb, director of the state Bureau of Elections, it would have been impossible to review the newly registered voter applications to determine which ones were third party "walked ins" and which ones were not.
Rogers, however, argued that the third party method of registering first-time voters should not qualify as "in-person" and anyone registered by a third party should be required to show one form of documentation listed in the state statute when they go to the polls. He said that the state statute is "plain and unambiguous." Rogers also maintained that any voter required to show I.D., but who failed to do so, could fill out a "provisional ballot" at the polls, which would later be examined by an election official to determine its validity.
The Democratic attorneys, led by Mr. Boyd, said newly registered voters would be disenfranchised if the I.D. requirement was enacted, because many live in rural areas or have had an address change.
Sydney Henning, a recent UNM graduate and organizer with the Young Voters Alliance who protested outside the county courthouse, said she "adamantly opposed" the voter I.D. requirement and cited herself as an example why. She moved three months ago then re-registered to vote, but her driver's license doesn't reflect her new address.
"I could have stayed registered at my parents Northeast Heights residence, but I want to vote in my precinct, that represents my issues and interests," said Henning. "Voting is my passion and I don't want anyone taking that right away from me."
Henning said a voter I.D. requirement would potentially disenfranchise thousands of college students in a similar situation. "It will hit the campus hard," she said. "The voter drive on campus has been extremely successful. Our street canvas has brought in so many young people at concerts, movie theaters, everywhere and anywhere."
Joan Javier, of the New Voters Project, agreed with Henning, saying her organization registered over 14,000 student-aged, first time voters this year.
The Republicans complaint also states "plaintiffs are informed, are aware and are greatly concerned about the widespread prevalence of fraudulent registrations received by the Bernalillo County Clerk in anticipation of the Nov. 2, 2004 election."
The Democrats argued, in the end, that no evidence was submitted during two days of testimony to verify this claim. And at times, the partisan hostilities in the courtroom were palpable.
For example, when Rogers called Vigil-Giron to the stand, her testimony focused more on partisan campaign matters than clean elections. Rogers asked Vigil-Giron if she had given "large sums of money" to the John Kerry campaign, to which Vigil-Giron replied, "How do you define large?"
"Anything more than $3," answered Rogers. "And you're a Republican?" shot back Vigil-Giron, causing laughter in the courtroom. Vigil-Giron said she gave the Kerry campaign $500 this year.
In another exchange, Rogers asked, "Do you recall being called 'highly partisan' in the press?" To which Vigil-Giron replied, "Only by Republicans."
At the close of Friday's hearing, Rogers conceded that a small number of eligible voters would be wrongly turned away at the polls if the I.D. requirement was implemented, but said the number was negligible.
The Democratic Party attorneys argued for dismissal of the complaint on the counter-claim that no voter fraud or threat of voter fraud had been proven by the plaintiffs, and irregularities on voter registration cards submitted as evidence had been caught by the secretary of state's office.
The Democratic Party attorneys seemed to have effectively cast doubt over several examples of voter registration fraud cited by the plaintiffs.
For example, Rogers called Glenn Stout to testify, an APD officer who called the Albuquerque Journal several weeks ago after his 13-year-old son received a voter registration card in the mail. The Republican attorneys then added Stout to their plaintiff list after the media reported the incident.
In his sworn testimony, Stout said his son never filled out a voter registration form. When he checked the social security number on a police computer, it belonged to a 23-year-old man in Alamogordo, Stout said, adding that he was concerned that whoever filled out the form intended to vote fraudulently. Any act of voter fraud, including false registration, is a felony.
In cross-examination, attorney Jim Scarantino noted that the address on the 13-year-old boy's registration card was sent to a residence a block away, but still managed to arrive in Mr. Stout's mailbox. Scarantino then revealed a parent of a 15-year-old boy that lives across the street from Mr. Stout said her son also received a fake voter registration card in the mail.
When asked if the two boys played together, Mr. Stout said yes and then Scarantino said, "Isn't that an odd coincidence?," suggesting that the well-publicized story resulted from a teenage prank. Stout said his son would be in so much trouble if he had committed a prank that the threat alone would be enough of a deterrent.
Nonetheless, it was not clear how the voter registration came about and in the end Mr. Stout reported the problem to the County Clerk's office who removed the boy from the voting rolls. In an interview outside the courtroom, County Clerk Herrera said the boy's name and mismatched social security number would have been caught by the secretary of state's office, before final approval to vote was granted.
Another example of fraud cited by the plaintiffs involved Karlee Hall, who recently moved to Albuquerque from Silver City so her husband could attend UNM. She registered once at a Northeast Heights Albertson's and again a few months later at Hastings on Wyoming after she hadn't received a voter registration card in the mail.
In her testimony, Hall said she knew nothing about the complaint until her two voter registration cards turned up on the evening news two weeks ago. When she called KRQE News 13 to inquire who was behind her 15-minutes of fame (friends had seen her name on the news), the station told her to talk to the Bernalillo County Clerk's office, she said. When she contacted the Clerk's office, she was told only one of her registration forms had been turned in. "Only the media had two of them," said Hall.
Patricia West, another woman whose two, separate voter registration forms were included as evidence of voter fraud on the complaint, had a similar story. She registered at Albertson's and several weeks later again at Hastings. West testified she only received one voter registration card in the mail and was content that she was only registered at the County Clerk's office once.
Interestingly, both West and Hall said they thought the folks signing them up at these retail locations were representatives of the County Clerk's office. And neither could recall what third party group signed them up.
Still, Republican state Rep. Joe Thompson, co-counsel for the plaintiffs with Rogers and attorney David Garcia, said he believes there are far too many duplicates – people registering as much as five and six times – that aren't getting caught by the County Clerk's office, although the Republicans did not produce much evidence.
"When you have overzealous people that are not vigilant about following the law, there is a chance mistakes will be made," said Thompson referring to get-out-the-vote groups operating across the state. "The law addressed that, it was passed by the democratic Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor, and the secretary of state is brazenly ignoring it."
In the end, though, Judge Thompson said the "possible extraordinary and substantial injury to the public" that could arise if the voting process was altered in the weeks before voting begins outweighed the arguments presented by the plaintiffs.
"New Mexico is a very diverse, unique mixture of citizens, all of whom have a right to vote," Thompson said at the close of the hearing.
Last week, folks passing by the UNM campus near Popejoy Hall had a chance to support Ralph Nader for president and register to vote at the same time, thanks to the hard working efforts of two women. To be sure, their purpose was colored in patriotism. Small, novelty store American flags were taped to nearby lamp posts and the card table that served as their base of operation sported a stars and stripes table cloth.
As pedestrians passed by, the women – one who sported spandex and big hair the likes you would otherwise not find on the Albuquerque campus, the other a possible stand-in for actress Kathy Bates – beseeched folks to sign-on to put "the independent Ralph Nader" on the ballot in New Mexico.
Noticing the petitioners were not handing out Nader brochures, pins, bumper stickers or information of any kind pertaining to his candidacy, Paul Suozzi, a UNM employee and supporter of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, said he "knew right away something fishy was going on." When Suozzi asked one of the petitioners if she was a Nader supporter the answer, he said, was no.
"They said they worked for a marketing firm with money coming from the Republican Party," Suozzi said. "I believe in forthright and frank presentation not this duplicity going on here."
According to UNM Student Services, last week a representative of Florida-based JSM Inc. – a marketing firm with known ties to GOP donors and consultants that specializes in gathering petition signatures – completed the "activity clearance form" to petition for Nader signatures on UNM's campus. At that time, the representative told Student Services' staff that she was working for the Republican Party.
According to a KUNM news report, another employee believed he was working for the Republican Party and admitted he hoped Nader's campaign would help George W. Bush get elected. However, JSM petitioners, who are also working at area Wal-Marts and in the Downtown area, are not divulging this information to the public unless asked.
JSM's petitioners are flown in from out of state, housed in local hotels and paid between $1 and $3 per signature, according to an employee seeking signatures in the Downtown area last week. The employee said he is nonpartisan and just doing his job.
Meanwhile, Kevin Zeese, Nader's campaign spokesman, said JSM's New Mexico petitioners are being paid solely by the Nader campaign. The company is only hired to collect signatures, he said, and petitioners are not supposed to talk to the media or pass along information about Nader's candidacy. Zeese added that the Nader campaign was not concerned about the party affiliations of these "professionals."
"I'm sure there is a mix of people that are being paid, and not all of them are Republicans," said Zeese. "We just want them to ask for signatures. The campaign will begin after Ralph gets on the ballot."
Zeese called the Albuquerque news reports "bizarre" that quoted JSM employees who said they supported Bush and worked for the GOP. And as of Friday, Aug. 13, Zeese said he had not spoken with Jenny Breslin, JSM's owner, about the matter. Breslin did not return Alibi phone calls and Zeese stated that the Nader campaign discourages her from talking to the press.
Zeese also said news reports about Republicans giving Nader financial support have been "amazingly exaggerated."
JSM in Nevada
A July 16 article in the Las Vegas Sun reported that Steve Wark, a Republican campaign consultant and former state party executive director, worked with JSM in Nevada to get Nader on the ballot. "Wark raised $30,000 – from friends and Republicans like the state party chairwoman – to pay for the signature-gathering effort for Nader," the article states.
Once Breslin arrived in Nevada she contacted Wark and told him to send the money to a nonprofit organization in Missouri, Choices For America, which then passed it on to JSM, the Sun reported. The petition drive worked after 20 JSM employees were flown into Nevada from California, earning as much as $3 per signature, after collecting more than 10,000.
The article also quotes Zeese saying that the Nader campaign paid JSM $15,000 for the Nevada petition drive. As for the idea that Republicans were also involved, Zeese said, "The more I think about the story, the less it makes sense."
While the Nader campaign's $15,000 does not add up to the total cost spent on JSM employees in Nevada, the total amount spent on petitioners is difficult to trace. Choices for America's nonprofit designation "is given to organizations that do social work and education, so it does not have to file federal campaign information," the Sun reported.
When the Alibi showed the Sun article to Carol Miller, Nader's New Mexico volunteer coordinator who ran for the Green Party presidential nomination earlier this year, she said, "It actually strikes me as a nonstory, there was not much there."
As for the New Mexico Republican Party, executive director Greg Graves said, "I don't know who these (JSM) folks are. We haven't had any contact with the Nader campaign."
Of course, New Mexicans should recall former GOP state party chair John Dendahl offered to hand-deliver $100,000 to the Green Party two years ago, hoping the money would fund a third candidate in the District One congressional race. Dendahl was upfront about his involvement in the plan (the Greens denied the offer), telling the Alibi at the time, "It's not a dirty trick, it's a new strategy."
Graves also said he didn't oppose the idea of citizens giving funds to more than one presidential candidate. "We need more money in the process," he said, "But I want the money to be raised and spent in an honest, open way."
When the Alibi attempted to interview the aforementioned women last week, one said she was just doing her job and wasn't allowed to talk to the media, while the other threatened to call the police if she was asked any questions or had her picture taken.
When asked if they were Nader supporters, one said "no," the other said "yes" and then the two briefly had a shrewish moment amongst themselves. They would not reveal their names, but said they worked for JSM and I would need to talk to "Jenny." When asked if JSM Inc. was financially backed by Bush supporters, one woman said yes and the other said no.
Right then, along came Colin Donoghue, a 24-year-old political science major. He was happy to sign the petition, because he said he thought there should be more than two choices on the ballot.
Donoghue, it turned out, has impeccable environmentalist credentials (co-chair of UNM Students for Clean Energy) and voted for Nader in 2000. But this year he said he supports Kerry. He blithely signed the petition anyway and went on his way, but, upon the Alibi's request, returned to ask the petitioner to explain if she was actually supporting George W. Bush.
"Go away," said the Bates look alike. And he did.
So why didn't he ask to have his name removed from the list?
"Well, I do want to support a third party, not the Republican Party," Donoghue said. "But I think it's a shame that the important issues are clouded in politics."
The Latest Poll
As it stands today, Republican President George W. Bush, Democrat Sen. John Kerry and Libertarian Michael Badnarik are the only names to appear on the Nov. 2 presidential ballot in New Mexico. (According to a Rasmussen Poll dated Aug. 5, Kerry led Bush and Badnarik by 50 percent to 43 percent to 5 percent statewide).
Carol Miller, though, said Nader has already gathered more than 25,000 signatures in New Mexico and plans to gather thousands more in the next two weeks. Nader must submit 14,527 signatures, which equals 3 percent of the votes cast in the 2002 gubernatorial election, to the Secretary of State's office by Sept. 7.
"Why would Republicans invest their money on petitions when we know we are going to have more than enough signatures in New Mexico?" she said.
Meanwhile, as of Friday, Aug. 13, Ralph Nader's name will appear as an independent candidate on ballots in New Jersey, Nevada, Arkansas and South Dakota. Of the four, all are swing states except South Dakota, which strongly supported Bush in 2000. Nader has also filed federal lawsuits in an attempt to get on the ballot as the Reform Party candidate in Michigan, Illinois and Texas.
According to the Associated Press in Michigan (another swing state), the majority of 50,000 signatures submitted on Nader's behalf came from the Michigan Republican Party.
All in all, Kevin Zeese said Nader hopes to be on the ballot in 47 states by the Nov. 2 election, having only given up on Georgia, Oklahoma and Indiana as of last week.