By Patricia H. Kushlis
I spent November 4 working as an election official at a precinct in a nearby Pueblo. The precinct is in Santa Fe County, about 20 miles north from the city of Santa Fe. I’d worked there before – in June for the primaries. At that time, the most difficult part was finding the site itself. Google and maps on the Internet didn’t help. It’s not there.
Several years ago when I lived in Albuquerque – 60 miles south – I’d worked at two different precincts, first as a Democratic poll watcher for a hotly contested election which went into recount, later as an election official at a well to do urban precinct co-located for voting purposes with three other wealthy precincts at a church.
Those precincts were distinctive enough, but in no way did the voters at the pueblo precinct reflect your average American voter. First of all, the turnout was high, far higher than for the state and the nation as a whole, over 50% versus a statewide 37% and an even more dismal national average of 34%. What’s more, the precinct was heavily Democratic, and Democrats didn’t do themselves proud on turnout this year. So what made the difference? Why was the pueblo vote so high, and just how did these Native Americans vote? Did these registered Democrats desert the party?
More important: what lessons can be learned that might be useful for the future? Anything here that could be implemented elsewhere?
This pueblo is not poor, but it’s not wealthy either. It has a casino and farm land. The voting site, an Intergenerational Center, built some six to seven years ago on the opposite side of the road and a bit to the south of the casino , is comfortable, nicely designed, well cared for, and its energy needs are met by a large solar panel which moves with the sun.
The Center, which serves breakfast and lunch for older members of the tribe, has a well-equipped fitness center, a basketball court and a library as well as a traditional kiva fireplace in the meeting room that was used for the elections. The casino, gas station, school and other businesses help employ members of the pueblo. An organic farmer supplies the tribe with fruits and vegetables in the summer.
So who came to the polls? Everyone.
Everyone from the tribal leaders to young parents and grandparents carrying babies. I especially remember a mother with her daughter, a student clarinetist wearing a green jacket advertising the local high school band – one which, by the way, has a dynamic music teacher who has doubled the band’s size in two years. The kids were all well behaved, the parents didn’t have to wait in long lines or fret that something might happen to them if they were left at home.
A major Native American artist regaled us with stories about his family’s life in Berkeley, California – his father had also been a major artist - and tales of life in New Mexico. Vietnam Vets came to vote in well-worn military caps. A few voters needed to use magnifying sheets to read the ballots and one elderly woman came with a relative, but no one required equipment for the disabled. Very few people in the precinct had early voted – they didn’t need to.