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Flags Wave, Banners Flip, But Optimism Abounds
“This is the wackiest election of my lifetime,” admits Jay Block. And that’s coming from one of the candidates. Jay Block is running for re-election for Sandoval County Commissioner in District 2. On Election Day he’s standing outside his neighborhood polling place in Rio Rancho, doing some good old-fashioned, grass-roots campaigning. As cars whip past on Unser Blvd., Block holds his campaign sign in one hand and a Trump flag in the other. Some drivers whoop in support. Others whoop in derision. (It’s hard to tell the difference.) “I’m getting a lot of You’re Number One!,” says Block, showing off an upright middle finger by way of demonstration. Between the passing hoots and honks, Block–a retired Lt. Colonel in the Air Force–takes time to direct a fellow vet to the nearby polling station, located inside a strip mall church. Block wants a second term to “keep doing what I was doing for four years”–building infrastructure, spurring economic development, fighting for government transparency–but he complains that he’s being “outspent five-to-one in PAC money by my opponent” (Democrat Leah Ahkee-Baczkeiwicz). Even as the staunchly Republican candidate stands amid a tiny roadside garden of Trump signs, waving his huge “TRUMP 2020” flag at passing pickup trucks, he freely admits that 2020 is “the most contentious election since 1860.”
Dr. Manuel Lucero is a retired school superintendent from the town of Pojoaque. Like a lot of northern New Mexicans who have retired, he’s moved closer to the big city, taking up residence amid the sprawling environs of Rio Rancho. On Election Day he can be found leaning against a pickup truck in a strip mall parking lot trying to get the good word out about his pal Gary Tripp. Tripp has been a teacher, coach, administrator and principal in schools from Moriarty to Rio Rancho and is now running for the N.M. State House in District 44. Lucero concedes that Tripp is running in “an extremely red county.” Still, he feels that New Mexicans “vote on personality.” A lot of those northern New Mexicans living in Rio Rancho remember Tripp fondly from his days in Las Vegas. (He graduated from West Las Vegas High School and got his Bachelor’s in Education from Highlands University.) Lucero is also holding up signs for U.S. Senate candidate Ben Ray Lujan, running a high-profile race against Republican newcomer Mark Ronchetti. Still, Dr. Lucero is trying not to get tied up in this year’s divisiveness. “I hope that on Wednesday morning both those guys can shake hands,” says Lucero. “We’re all gonna have our philosophical differences. But hopefully, at the end of it all, we’ve done what’s best for our country.” Like so many others surprised by the partisan fighting, Lucero says that the 2020 election is “the most interesting, the most controversial, the most–I don’t know. I don’t even have words for it.” But the Democratic volunteer sees a light at the end of the tunnel. “I pray for Wednesday morning. I just wanna watch an NFL game without [political] commercials!”
A tiny black SUV sits in the parking lot of the Highlands University campus on Albuquerque’s sprawling West Side, its AC cranking in the unseasonably warm November weather. Marcia Gordon sits behind the wheel, mask in place, ready to help. Gordon is a volunteer for Common Cause New Mexico, a local nonprofit organization that works toward “solutions that will reduce the influence of money in politics, hold public officials accountable, create a more representative government, and ensure that every vote counts and our elections reflect the will of the people.” Gordon is one of some 50 “roving” volunteers travelling between polling stations in five-hour shifts. A magnetic sign on her car and a button on her T-shirt tell various and sundry that she’s here to help, should they need it. Her “totally bipartisan” mission is to assist people who show up with lingering questions. “Is this my polling station?” and “Do I need my ID?” are just some of the more typical questions Gordon is having to field. While on site she’s also making sure there are no difficulties in voting and that no one is blocking the entrance to one of the polling stations. Common Cause also has “watchers” stationed inside the building and “monitors” stationed outside the buildings. All of them prepared to alert election workers and officials of shenanigans, should the need arise. Slightly past noon and Gordon’s shift has been “incredibly boring!” None of her fellow Common Cause N.M. helpers stationed citywide have reported anything unseemly. “People are well behaved. It’s basically nothing, so far.” That, mind you, is a good thing. [ ]