Edgewood’s Mayor John Bassett and the group that brought a petition to change the form of government in town are at odds again after Jerry Powers of CORE (Citizens for an Open and Responsible Edgewood) donated five locking recycle bins to the Edgewood Post Office.
Powers said he donated the bins because the recycle bins at the Edgewood Post Office are usually full to overflowing, and CORE feared ballots for the Aug. 24 special election on the question of whether to change the town’s form of government could be discarded, leaving them open to being “harvested,” then turned in as a fraudulent vote.
Bassett said he went to Edgewood Postmaster Anthony Baca July 29 with the same concern, and had questions for Baca on how secure the facility is. “He took me out there and showed me these bins,” Bassett said, adding that he assumed the locking bins were owned by the Postal Service.
Then he started getting calls from constituents, one who saw Powers delivering the bins, and wondering why. Bassett said Baca told him he didn’t know who Powers was, or of his affiliation with CORE.
Bassett said he doesn’t know how many keys are out there, and said even if CORE hasn’t done anything wrong, that the possibility of wrongdoing is there.
Western Area spokesman for the Postal Service, Rod Spurgeon, said in a press release, “There were secured recycling bins placed in the Edgewood, NM Post Office lobby from July 29 through August. 3. The Postmaster authorized the placement of these bins in the lobby to offer customers a secured location for discarded items, and he retained the only key.”
The statement continues, “These secured recycling bins were removed on Aug. 3 because they do not conform to standard lobby equipment.”
Powers said in an email to The Independent, “The donated bins were purchased second-hand, came with only two keys total and those were given directly to the postmaster. While he mentioned re-keying the bins, I do not know if he did.”
Baca said he couldn’t comment on the record, referring The Independent to Spurgeon.
Asked if he saw discarded ballots at the Edgewood Post Office, Powers said the bins were donated before the ballots went out. “The overflowing trash cans demonstrated a reasonable risk (and obvious one). How would donating recycle bins or the postmaster assuring bins are emptied daily and contents secured influence the outcome of an election except to insure election integrity?”
The lobby in the Edgewood Post Office is open 24 hours a day, and someone from CORE could have a key and taken items from the bins, Bassett alleges.
Bassett said he saw a woman watching one of the bins and talking to Post Office patrons. He said he took a cell phone picture of her while she took appeared to take a cell phone picture of him.
Powers said CORE volunteers were “off post office property,” adding, that they “displayed signs and had informational flyers for those who wanted one.” He added, “I stopped by a couple times and volunteers were outside, but I was not there all day. Some volunteers were even on horseback holding signs.”
Both “electioneering” and “campaigning” are prohibited on Post Office property, according to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, on the Cornell Law School website.
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said she doesn’t think the issue will impact the election, and added that the process is for the election to continue, and if any investigation is warranted that would come after the election.
The special election is the result of a petition circulated by CORE, on the question of whether the town should change from its current mayor-council format to a commission-manager format. CORE advocates for commission-manager.
Special elections in New Mexico are held by all-mail voting, and ballots went out last week to Edgewood voters.
Salazar said there are 4,112 eligible voters in the Aug. 24 election, which is restricted to those living within the municipal boundaries of Edgewood.
Automatic “mailable voter” ballots issued via the Postal Service for the election totaled 3,666, Salazar said. As of Aug. 6, 550 of those had been returned. Election workers send a follow-up letter and attempt to contact voters with returned ballots, she said.
The Santa Fe County Clerk’s office, which is running the election, is setting up a satellite polling location at the Edgewood town hall. Edgewood voters will be able to get a provisional ballot if they haven’t received one in the mail, or if they got a damaged ballot, Salazar said.
The site won’t be a full Voting Convenience Center, meaning voters won’t put their ballot through the vote-counting machine, but instead will deposit their voted-on ballot, in its envelope, into a locked bin. Those ballots will later by counted by pollworkers in the County Clerk’s office, Salazar said.
“A group of qualified voters went through the whole process [to call a special election], about 70 or 80 people,” Salazar said. “The bottom line is the Santa Fe County Clerk’s office is running the election in an unbiased, fair and secure manner.”
Ballots must be returned, whether by dropping them off or mailing them to the Santa Fe County Clerk, by Aug. 24.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.