2022 RPNM Pre-Primary Convention Recap, An Exercise in Election Integrity?
**Delay in publishing this story was due to an extremely busy and stressed personal and professional life this past semester, which prohibited me from spending the time necessary to properly document and complete this story.
The February 2022 pre-primary convention was easily the worst, most embarrassing and most stressful convention I’ve been to in my ten years of attending statewide Republican events & the fourteen years I’ve been an active Republican voter. The Republican Party has gone from intense, yet professionally-run, conventions with outside factors impacting conventions negatively, to a convention which was systemically flawed from the top down, with such poor communication, poorer decision making, and an inability to have contingency plans prepared in case something went wrong logistically. As you can see at the end, the party put the weight of whether the convention was run properly on campaign representatives, delegating improper authority to the winners or losers based on which candidates stuck around to the end.
But even leading up to the convention there seemed to be confusion. In Dona Ana County, security escorted out potential county delegates to the state convention as shouting matches erupted. In Bernalillo County, party leadership attempted to control who could become delegates at Ward caucuses where Republican voters from the community at large were excluded from becoming delegates to the state convention if they hadn’t “pre-registered” and paid by check days in advance.
What was the point of conventions where security and armed guards with rifles were a priority? What kind of a message did excluding the average voter send Republican community members who showed up to their county ward caucus convention? How would first time ward caucus or county convention attendees feel about these actions? Are we the big tent party?
The convention began with the state central committee dealing with the racism of Taylor Locker. Referencing how he came from Ohio, Locker made a racist and eugenicist comment, “We kind of think of Cleveland when we’re down in the Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton area like you think of Española. You gotta keep that fenced off, make sure those people don’t populate with the rest of the state.” Locker was elected delegate after he had made racist comments on Eddy Aragon’s radio program while promoting a Republican Party event (go figure: put a white guy on the radio and have him mock the Hispanic community, while promoting an event aimed at bringing in the Hispanic community to the Republican Party). Instead of keeping Locker from becoming delegate in the first place through an honest election process, some in the party wanted to remove him by force, through some kind of censure, with no regard for the democratic process. Funny, how the party didn’t care he was elected, until it was obvious the media might be able to say there is systemic racism in their midst rising to the highest levels of the party and how even when the party forced him to resign, local Republicans still backed him!
Digital Media & Free Speech Censored
And by media, we mean, the general credentialed attendance and new media, which includes all present. In the era of social media, the New Mexico GOP made a point of forbidding credentialed attendees from recording speeches or taking videos of candidates and party officials who spoke. Is there something to hide? Why can’t people record speeches? It appeared that the party didn’t want to promote candidates because they wouldn’t allow speeches to be recorded and shared. Was this because the party didn’t want some candidates to look bad? Or did they want to put their finger on and control what candidates would be in the limelight?
While the Republican Party of New Mexico touts the Constitution on their website, they sought to censor free speech and prevent individuals from exercising first amendment rights at their convention. Why? What is there to hide? I was told that if individuals were caught recording, they were forced to delete whatever multimedia they had taken. Meanwhile, the Republican Party claims to “support preserving & abiding by The Constitution of the United States of America.” The Constitution does include the Bill of Rights.
Republican Virtue Signaling
For a party that proclaims that the content of one’s character matters over identity politics, and has central talking points that push back against CRT, the Republican Party of New Mexico was playing the identity politics game at the convention. There was significant time allotted to the party’s effort to out-virtue signal the Democrats on identity politics. With time limited, identity politics speakers contributed little to strategies benefiting all primary candidates, or building onto how the Republican Party will help their nominees win in November.
Lengthy & Catastrophic Voting Process
Confusion over voting began for many, when attendees, including guests, began to receive texts stating that voting would begin. The link included in the text sent the individual clicking it to a site that requested their email and password (probably phishing). While the party never stated anything about what the texts were about. I tried to figure out what they were, and leaders responded saying, “We’re working on it.” This didn’t impact voting (to my knowledge), but it did foreshadow the voting procedures that were coming. Originally, votes were to be conducted via email, However, whatever had been planned, didn’t work.
Everyone in leadership was aware of the Ruidoso venue logistics and knew where the convention was going to be held, and that it was a rural community where there might not be bandwidth for 700 people to use the internet at the same time to vote. Fast forward an hour or so later, we were told alternative voting platforms would be used because the originally planned online platform wasn’t working.
Hours passed. The voting process grew longer and longer. Tensions grew. Voters didn’t get answers and figured the online process would be worked out. Torrance County delegates took off and left, believing they would be able to vote mobile on the way home. Did they get to vote? Did their proxies count somehow (even though by party rules they must be carried only by a county voter who carries only five or less proxies)? There was never a clear answer presented by leadership to candidates about who voted, and under what conditions, let alone were these answers provided to delegates and the central committee.
Finally: The rules committee met and determined alternative voting procedures. Paper ballots would work, right? Sure. But Ruidoso is rural. There is no Kinkos office in town. The party had to borrow printers from a local business, but even that generous assistance was inadequate for printing so many papers. Printing was delayed. You could have cut the tension with a knife. The convention center sought to calm the aura, by playing what many of us thought sounded like “funeral music.”
Delegates were told to line up by congressional district. Do delegates even know what congressional district they are in? Nobody in leadership addressed that question before the lines were formed. But, we followed orders and if you needed to make a restroom run, and come back into the convention room, you were told you didn’t get to vote.
Counting into the Night
As the meeting continued, long past when guests were supposed to have finished the paid luncheon with special guest Kimberly A. Reed, tabulating votes finally began. The votes were first taken to a room where candidates were barred from access and presumably only executive committee and rules committee present. Then, once they had been processed (we’re not sure what that means), they were brought into the tabulating room to be counted. Counting ballots went on for hours stretching from about 4:30 p.m. to after 8:00 p.m. Tabulation was relatively straightforward and each candidate was allowed to have an observer present. Presumably, most of those counting ballots were executive committee members and rules committee members, led by Todd Hathorne, Janice Arnold-Jones and John Billingsley.
Finally, when no more counting of votes could be done, many candidate representatives had left, and with still many questions about what votes counted, what votes didn’t, which voters had left, which had not, a campaign representative for a gubernatorial campaign suggested adjourning and another individual suggested Chairman Pearce (who was not present) would need to adjourn the meeting.
Chairman Pearce arrived within minutes and after expressing how unfortunate the convention mishaps had been, he asked individuals in the room to sign a paper before he adjourned the convention. Were the details of convention voting procedures provided to candidates on who exactly voted and who didn’t based on who was present and who left? No. It was fuzzy and unclear. About 25 individuals remained in the convention building at this time, some were allowed to enter the room when Pearce came in (mostly remaining campaign staff). Most of the gubernatorial campaigns had some kind of representation present.
“We the undersigned, the ballot and tabulation committee, confirm that the results of the count is reflective of the delegate vote.”
Do you think asking individuals to sign this statement contributes to the credibility of the election results? With a vote on the statement occurring a little after 9:30 p.m., the convention adjourned. Individuals were free to leave this ballot tabulation room with barred access where only about half of those present were delegates. This is how the Republican Party, the party that advocates for the Constitution, limited government and election integrity, runs a legally-required election to place Republican candidates on the ballot.