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TUES: New Mexico Deploys Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes Statewide, + More

Maggie Toulouse Oliver

New Mexico Deploys Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes Statewide By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Election officials are deploying ballot drop boxes across New Mexico for people who chose to cast absentee ballots without walking indoors during the upcoming Nov. 2 local election for public offices including mayor of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told a legislative panel Monday that county clerks are required to provide one drop box for every 25,000 voters and at least two per county. Exceptions can be made at the request of local county officials. 

The quick-drop boxes for voting are among a long list measures backed by Toulouse Oliver, a second-term Democrat, that are aimed at making voting more accessible. Lawmakers appropriated funding for the initiative amid concerns about COVID-19 and indoor crowding at polling places.

Ballots must be collected at least once a day from the boxes, video surveillance of drop boxes is required and recordings must be retained by county clerks. It remains illegal for any person to deliver a ballot for another person with the exception of immediate family, and signs at each drop box are required to explain that prohibition against so-called ballot harvesting.

The proliferation of drop boxes is the outcome of 2019 legislation from the Democratic-led legislature that was signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and more detailed rules this summer from state election regulators aimed at consistent procedures.

Drop boxes were a focus of Republican Party concerns about election security in the 2020 general election. Disputes about ballot drop boxes in two counties were resolved in state district court in October 2020 prior to the close of voting. 

President Donald Trump directly challenged New Mexico's use of drop boxes for absentee ballots in the aftermath of the 2020 vote, as well as vote-counting equipment sold by Dominion Voting Systems. 

The lawsuit was abruptly dropped in January 2020 a few days after Congress certified the election of President Joe Biden. Toulouse Oliver suggested that the Trump campaign be sanctioned for meritless litigation.

Many emergency balloting reforms adopted in response to the pandemic have expired and will not be in effect in this year's consolidated elections for city, county and school district offices. Those expired measures included requirements that outer envelopes be signed with the last four digits of each voter's Social Security number.

Toulouse Oliver said she hopes the Legislature will help reinstate expired convenience and ballot security measures. She also voiced support for the creation of a permanent absentee voting list to receive a ballot at home without repeated requests.

Former Tax Official Gets Probation In Embezzlement Case-Associated Press

A former head of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department has been sentenced to five years of probation for her convictions in an embezzlement case.


A state District Court judge for Sandoval County last week sentenced former Secretary Demesia Padilla on her June jury convictions for embezzlement and computer access with intent to defraud or embezzle.


Padilla faced up to 18 years in prison but Judge Cindy Mercer suspended all prison time for Padilla and imposed five years of supervised probation, the Albuquerque Journal reported.


Along with the probation term, Padilla must complete 200 hours of community service and pay over $25,000 in restitution to the embezzlement victims, a Bernalillo family which owned a grading company that used Padilla's accounting firm.


Padilla, an appointee of then-Gov. Susana Martinez, resigned her Cabinet post in December 2016 after Attorney General's Office investigators searched the tax agency for tax documents connected with Padilla and her husband. She was charged about 18 months later.


Many of the original charges were dismissed as being too vague.


Albuquerque Lawmaker Opts Out Of Running For Reelection-Associated Press


State Rep. Debbie Armstrong has decided against running for reelection, saying Tuesday that she wanted to focus on her family and other projects.


The Albuquerque Democrat has served four terms in the House of Representatives and is the chair of the chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee. She has played a role in expanding health care and prescription drug coverage during her tenure.


Armstrong pointed specifically to the state’s recent passage of legislation to legalize cannabis for recreational use and a new law that provides a legal pathway for terminally ill patients to choose when and how they die.


"I can’t thank enough my incredible constituents and supporters who have supported me and these important initiatives over the years and who shared my vision of a state where every New Mexican can get access to the quality healthcare they deserve,” Armstrong said in a statement.


Armstrong was first elected in 2014 to represent a district that includes parts of central Albuquerque and the North Valley.


Her decision not to run again comes amid the once-a-decade process of redrawing political maps. A seven-member Citizen Redistricting Commission is reviewing and vetting redistricting maps for the state Legislature, which can adopt recommendations or start from scratch.




3 Candidates For Santa Fe Mayor Clash At Public Forum By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Santa Fe's incumbent entrepreneur-turned-mayor defended his handling of conflicts over historical monuments and stewardship of a COVID-battered economy at a candidate forum Monday amid stinging criticism from two Latina challengers.Alan Webber is being challenged by fellow Democrat and City Councilor Joann Vigil Coppler, who highlighted her hardscrabble local upbringing within a Hispanic family and lengthy experience in public administration and finance in the hourlong debate.

Vigil Coppler accused Webber of mismanaging city finances and neglecting bedrock parks-and-recreation obligations with long-delayed repairs to an outdoor pool. Webber claimed credit for not only backfilling potholes but also turning Santa Fe into a closely watched testing ground for universal basic income by offering guaranteed monthly payments to 100 young parents as they attended Santa Fe Community College.

Vigil Coppler and Republican contender Alexis Martinez Johnson lambasted the mayor's response last year as a tumultuous crowd toppled a downtown monument representing Union soldiers who died fighting Indigenous tribes and Confederate soldiers. The monument, which had an inscription that referred to Indigenous peoples as "savages," is reviled by Native Americans for glorifying military campaigns against their ancestors.

The events on Santa Fe historic central plaza have catalyzed criticism of the mayor by several fraternal orders including an advocacy group for local Hispanic pride and heritage.

As the monument was toppled in October 2020, many police left the area in a move the mayor has said was meant to prevent physical violence. At least eight people were later charged in the destruction, with seven entering a diversion program that involves community service that will spare them jail time.

At Monday's forum, Webber and Vigil Coppler gave conflicting accounts of the action that day — and its significance.

"I would never have ordered the police to stand down, and it's clear that order came from the mayor," Vigil Coppler said. "We just saw our culture ... what we're used to seeing on the plaza just fade away."

Webber said he didn't dictate the police response, while noting that previous city councils and mayors had advocated for removing the obelisk, which is reviled by some Native Americans.

"The mayor does not order the police chief or any other police officer to stand down. That is simply false and inaccurate," Webber said.

He said the city ultimately sidestepped any major civil unrest.

"No one was killed," Webber said, paraphrasing comments he has heard. "Everyone went home safely, there was no tear gas hanging over the plaza. There were no windows shattered. ... People were cited for their illegal behavior."

At the same time, all three candidates said that the city's ongoing truth and reconciliation process on culture and history is worthwhile, amid a national conversation about public markers paying tribute to historical figures linked to racism, slavery and genocide.

During Webber's tenure, Santa Fe discontinued an annual reenactment of the return of Spanish settlers 12 years after the Pueblo Indian revolt of 1680.

Webber, who won election in 2018 as a first-time candidate for public office, is renown as a publishing entrepreneur and founder of Fast Times Magazine.

He is seeking a second term after leading New Mexico's fastest growing major city through the pandemic and state emergency health orders that all but shut down the crucial hospitality and tourism industries.

Vigil Coppler, elected to the Santa Fe City Council in 2018, has campaigned for mayor as a seasoned public administrator who previously served as Santa Fe's human resources director after prior posts with the state courts system, state government and Los Alamos County.

The roundtable-style discussion, sponsored by the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Drury Hotel, was moved to a remote, online format in response to concerns about the coronavirus.


School Vaccine Campaigns Targeting Students Face Blowback - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

Fearing his parents wouldn't approve of his decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine but needing their signature, Andrew signed up for the appointment in secret, and then sprang it on them at the last minute.

They said no. Andrew cursed at his mother and father and called them idiots. Andrew's dad grabbed him by the shirt collar.

"He said, 'You're not getting this damn vaccine; you need to lower your voice. Watch your tone when you talk to me.' It was, it was the first time my dad had ever done something like that — he grabbed my shirt and yelled in my face," said Andrew, a 17-year-old student in Hoover, Alabama. 

In most states, minors need the consent of their parents in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Navigating family politics in cases of differing views has been a challenge for students and organizers of outreach campaigns, who have faced blowback for directly targeting young people. 

President Joe Biden has encouraged every school district to promote vaccines, including with on-site clinics, to protect students as they return to school amid a resurgence of the coronavirus. But several governments and school districts have taken more neutral stances in areas where skepticism of the vaccine remains prevalent. 

In Tennessee, the health department ended vaccination events and outreach aimed at minors following criticism of advertisements that featured children and included slogans like "Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot." Republican lawmakers accused the health department of " peer pressuring " children to get the vaccine and criticized a top official who sent a memo to vaccine providers explaining that they could legally waive parental consent under Tennessee law.

Nationwide, half of people ages 12-17 have been vaccinated. That age group has been eligible for the Pfizer vaccine since May on an emergency use authorization. Trials are underway for younger children. 

Full approval for the drug was granted by federal safety regulators recently for people 16 and older. Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District school board voted to mandate vaccines for students 12 and older. 

In Molalla, Oregon, the mayor pressured a high school to cancel a vaccine drive on campus this semester, citing a $50 gift card incentive he equated with bribery. Many who called for an end to the vaccine drive expressed opposition to the vaccines, although Mayor Scott Keyser said he's not against them. 

Misinformation surrounding in-school vaccination efforts has also eroded trust between parents and school districts across the country.

School officials in Kettering, Ohio, received death threats in August after TikTok videos baselessly claimed the suburban Dayton district was vaccinating children without parental consent. 

There was no truth to the claims — they came out before the school year began, and spring vaccine clinics required parents to be present — but they caused "huge hysteria" in the community nonetheless, according to Kettering City Schools superintendent Scott Inskeep.

"Our families really are struggling with both information and disinformation," Inskeep said. "It's like a match being put to a gasoline fire. When it starts it's hard to put out."

In a total of eight states, all in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest, providers can waive parental consent requirements — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, according to a May review by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In some areas, there have been efforts to make it easier for kids to get vaccinated. 

State legislators in New York and New Jersey introduced laws that would allow teens to consent to vaccines without parental consent, but they were never passed. D.C. passed its law and is being sued by an anti-vaccine group. In New Mexico, health officials remade consent forms so that parents could sign them and send them with their kids, instead of having to show up in person.

Elsewhere, some officials have tried to give parents more say over vaccinations for teenagers. 

In May, officials in two Oregon counties barred health officials from giving vaccines to kids without parental consent. Yamhill County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer and the mother of three teenagers defended the move saying, "Our children are not the property of the State of Oregon." 

But the counties backed down after state health officials issued a legal opinion affirming consent rights for children 15 and older. Berschauer continues to advocate against vaccine incentives for teens, calling the programs "peer pressure."

On paper, Alabama's law is one of the more liberal, allowing minors like Andrew to get the vaccine on their own. In practice, that's nearly impossible. The Alabama Department of Public Health requires parental consent as a matter of policy, and so do major pharmacies.

The day after the argument with his parents, Andrew's father took him to the pharmacy and signed, without saying a word. Andrew's father confirmed his son's account but declined to be interviewed. Andrew asked that his last name not be used out of fear of further upsetting his parents.

Pediatricians in some cases try to facilitate conversations between children and parents and promote the COVID-19 vaccine. But it doesn't always work, even with parents who have accepted their pediatrician's recommendation on other vaccines, including for HPV and the flu.

"They look at me like I'm suggesting that they feed their child poison when I'm recommending a COVID vaccine," said doctor Katrina Skinner, President of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Andrew's Hoover High School does not promote COVID-19 vaccinations on its website or social media channels, and there's no indication the school will host a vaccine clinic. School officials did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

Alabama state health officials have been encouraging the vaccines among young people with a contest on the social media app TikTok that awarded $250 for the best video promoting COVID-19 vaccinations.

One of Andrew's schoolmates, Rotimi Kukoyi, 17, was one of four contest winners. He shared the video with his 18,000 followers, built over two years by making jokes. 

"I showed the CDC explaining how the vaccine is safe, and how it's effective, and then I linked resources for people to sign up to get the vaccine," Rotimi said.


Las Cruces Teen Pleads Not Guilty In Fatal Party Shooting - Associated Press

A 17-year-old boy has been arraigned in the shooting death of a man at a Las Cruces house party this summer.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the teen pleaded not guilty Monday at a hearing. He is one of two people charged in the July 31 killing of 23-year-old Nicodemus "Nico" Gonzalez.

The teen is being charged as an adult.

His attorney asked if he could be released from jail in order to complete his high school studies since he's a few credits short of earning his degree.

Judge Richard Jacquez asked the attorney to file a motion on the matter first.

Authorities say the teen and a 19-year-old suspect shot almost a dozen rounds at a group of people during the party after a fight erupted. 

Police say Gonzales was an innocent bystander and wasn't involved in the fight.


Navajo Nation Reports 6 More COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation reported six more COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths.

The tribe has seen 33,240 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,419 known deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.

Based on cases from Aug. 27 to Sept. 9, the Navajo Department of Health has issued an advisory for 35 communities due to uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

Navajo officials are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel. 

Officials say all Navajo Nation executive branch employees will need to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The new rules apply to full, part-time and temporary employees, including those working for tribal enterprises like utilities, shopping centers and casinos. 

Any worker who does not show proof of vaccination by Sept. 29 must be tested every two weeks or face discipline.

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.


Push For Native American Curriculum In Schools Makes Gains By Susan Haigh Associated Press

For years, many Native American tribes have felt their history has not been given its due by schools in Connecticut, a state that takes its name from an Algonquian word meaning "land on the long tidal river."

Soon, however, schools will be required to teach Native American studies, with an emphasis on local tribes, under a law passed this year at the urging of tribes including the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, best known today for its Foxwoods Resort Casino. 

"When you're in Connecticut, to not learn about the Eastern woodland tribes, the tribes that Connecticut was founded on, (that) was the issue that we were pressing," said Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots. 

It has been a long-running goal of many Native Americans to have more about their history and culture taught in grade schools. New requirements have been adopted in Connecticut, North Dakota and Oregon and advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation's reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.

The legislation affecting schools has advanced alongside new bans on Native American mascots for sports teams and states celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Christopher Columbus Day.

The push for curriculum requirements has not been without challenges, with some legislatures deeming new laws unnecessary because Native American history already is reflected in school curriculum. There also have been some steps in the opposite direction amid battles over how topics related to race and racism are taught in classrooms. 

In South Dakota, a group of teachers and citizens charged with crafting new state social studies standards said last month that Gov. Kristi Noem's administration deleted from their draft recommendations many elements intended to bolster students' understanding of Native American history and culture. They said changes made to the draft gave it a political edge they had tried to avoid, aligning it instead with the Republican governor's rhetoric on what she calls patriotic education.

The Department of Education said in a statement that it relied heavily on the recommendations from the workgroup and made "certain adjustments before the release of the draft to provide greater clarity and focus for educators and the public."

Meanwhile, in Montana, tribes and the parents of 18 students filed a federal lawsuit in July, alleging state education leaders are violating a state constitutional requirement to teach all children about the unique culture and heritage of Native Americans.

A 2019 report from the National Congress of American Indians, which surveyed 35 states with federally recognized tribes, found nearly 90% of states said they had efforts underway to improve the quality and access to Native American curriculum. While a majority said it's included in their schools, less than half said it was required and specific to tribal nations in their state. 

"We are seeing a focus on different races and issues," said Aaron Payment, first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairperson of the 44,000-member Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan. 

Payment, who holds a doctorate in educational leadership, said Native American Studies should be incorporated across curriculum, and not taught "just at Thanksgiving, where it's a condensed sort of module." He doesn't support states mandating the curriculum per se but believes states should provide incentives and funding to develop curriculum, with input from tribes.

The Connecticut legislation makes it mandatory for schools to teach Native American studies starting with the 2023-2024 school year. It passed despite concerns raised by teachers unions and state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona. Cardona, who is now the U.S. education secretary, had said it is important to teach about Native Americans but he was wary of unfunded mandates for school districts that are still working to implement other courses lawmakers and the governor have required them to teach.

In North Dakota, a bill became law this year that requires all elementary and secondary schools, public and private, to include Native American tribal history in their curriculum, with an emphasis on tribes within the state.

In Oregon, a similar law took effect in 2019 to provide "historically accurate, culturally embedded, place-based, contemporary, and developmentally appropriate" American Indian and Alaska Native curriculum in five subject areas.