MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Voting... Why it is So Important

Voting is such an important right that so many take for granted, and shouldn't. Many people think, "My vote doesn't matter," but it does. Your vote matters not only for the national races, but also the local races - state government, county, city, and even school board races. These are the people who will represent you locally, and make decisions affecting your community — be it schools, zoning, roads, etc.

Elections also focus on spending - what should your community raise and spend taxes on: from safety issues such as hiring police and firefighters, to educating your children and creating new schools. But elections also affect quality of life issues, such as libraries and parks, transportation systems, etc. If you think your money is better spent elsewhere, let your voice be your vote. If you don't vote, you have no control over how your tax dollar is spent.

Voting also tells our representatives what we like and what we don't like. What we will tolerate and what we won't. But if you don't vote, you lose that ability to tell your representatives what you want. And in close races - races so close that coin tosses or high cards decided the winner — you lose the opportunity to choose, instead allowing "lady luck" to make the decision for you. Hmm, I think I prefer having my vote make the decision, not a coin or a card.

Now that I've convinced you to vote, here's the hard part — you need to convince your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to vote. You can mention it to them in casual conversation, or you can send out an email to all of the people in your address book reminding them to vote next election. If it helps, impress upon them how important it is to show the next generation that voting is a fundamental right of all Americans — something not to be taken lightly. Too many young adults don't vote because they feel disenfranchised — not realizing that part of the reason they feel disenfranchised is because they don't vote. Remember, if you want to have a voice in how the system works, you've got to vote.

So, register to vote if you haven't already, find out what races are on the ballot, and invite as many people as you can to go vote on Election Day.

Help America Vote Act and First Time Voters

This year many of you will have seen the voter registration drives and the "get out the vote" campaigns. But what some of these first time voters don't know is that under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, you must now show two forms of identification when you vote - a picture ID, and either a bank statement, current utility bill, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows your name and address. For most states, this only applies to first time voters, but some states require photo IDs for all voters. Check with your local city/county clerks office, state government official, or even your local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for details about the rules in your state.

Now, what do you do if you've forgotten/don't have these alternate forms of ID? Answer: fill out a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are mandated under HAVA. Your name and other information will be verified when compared with voter rolls. However, Congress left it up to the states to decide how to deal with them. First, some states/counties may not have enough provisional ballots on hand - a potential violation under HAVA, especially since this will be the first real test of these ballots. But more importantly, while some states will count the votes, others may discard your ballot if you are in the wrong precinct. Currently, there are lawsuits filed against states who "throw out" provisional ballots based on both equal protection laws and on HAVA's rules stating that provisional ballots "shall be counted." However, these are being done on a state-by-state basis, and may not be finalized in time for the up-coming election.

One recommendation by many people worried about not having their votes counted is absentee voting. However, absentee voting rules for first time voters require that you send in a photocopy of your ID, along with a copy of one of the above-mentioned alternative forms of identification. Again, check with your local city/county clerk or state election offices for more information.

Currently, New Mexico rules require first time voters who register through the mail to provide photo identification and the secondary forms of identification at the polls — something not required of voters registering through third parties (i.e. get out the vote groups). A district court ruling made it mandatory that ALL first time voters had to provide identification - potentially affecting thousands. A stay of this order was granted primarily due to the lack of time to educate all first time voters, the rural nature of the state, and the fact that many residents do not have either photo identification or the secondary forms of identification. However, as a result of a separate lawsuit filed in another district court in the state, first time voters in Chaves county are required to provide the mandatory identification. New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is demanding that the rules be applied across all 33 counties. Because of the conflicting rulings, New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron has petitioned the State Supreme Court to rule on the matter. Her view is that the rules should be applied in all 33 counties, and is urging the court to overturn the Chaves county decision.

UPDATE! New Mexico's State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Secretary of State Vigil-Giron. Photo IDs and other identifying information is only required of voters who registered through the mail — not in person at the various County Clerk offices or through third party voter registers.

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"Some people in the community were behind mining, [they] thought, mining is good for money. Some Navajo families were compensated for [past] mining on their lands. They were rich for a while. But it seems like to Navajos or native people, it's not good for us. As of today, I've seen these families suffer; many are gone from alcoholism, and [many] didn't spend the money in the right way. There's nothing there, now they're suffering again. This is almost where we're headed again. In the long run, I think it's not made for the native people to be so rich off the Earth. Uranium mining, it's like it's an omen."

--Mitchell Capitan,
Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining

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