I cried on the way home. After my first Democratic ward meeting, I was mourning our democracy.
In the Democratic Party, delegates are elected to represent districts of their county known as wards. These delegates go on to represent you at the party’s pre-primary convention, during which candidates for the primary are voted onto the ballot and a policy platform for the state is determined.
My ward, 4D, met at the Center for Progress and Justice. While standing in line to get my ballot, I watched volunteers for gubernatorial candidates hand people preprinted cheat sheets of names. They then told attendees to write those lists of names on their ballot as their votes for delegates. Attendees were also asked to write these names in various orders, due to an unusual voting system that wasn’t explained to any of us. As a result, most people had written down their votes before the meeting had begun. After the meeting started, those nominated as delegates weren’t given a chance to address the room.
I witnessed several other acts which I later learned fall within the Democratic Party of New Mexico’s rules: filling in names on other people’s voting cards; nominating people who were not present; keeping people in the final running after they had left early; and the “card trick” – drawing the last two delegates by pulling playing cards from a suspiciously small deck.
Some of the ward meeting’s business did in fact violate the rules and guidelines for the Santa Fe County Democratic Party. I stood in front of the ward chair while she told a woman she could leave her ballot with someone else before the meeting began, which seems at the county level to qualify as proxy voting. And a representative of Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham, not a member of my ward, was recorded on video writing on other people’s ballots after the meeting started, with state Democratic Party official sitting in the same row.
These grievances might feel like a small and petty list from the observance of small and petty actions, but they are symptoms of a larger problem we need to address: Our habits are selfish and undemocratic.
Since President Donald Trump got elected, local activism and engagement across the country has increased after several decades of emptier and emptier meeting halls. Yet not many people recognize how their undemocratic – even authoritarian – behavior is burning bridges instead of building communities.
After expressing my concerns from my own ward meeting, several people across New Mexico told me stories of rules being selectively enforced in favor of Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham’s campaign for governor, ward chairs trying to force people to vote for particular delegates, using these cheat sheets, and even paying people to be delegates. If that last accusation is true, ward members are selling their vote and are no better than the politicians they accuse of representing private interests rather than communities. That’s grass-roots corruption, not democracy.