What if I told you that I had assembled a voter list of technology advocates, who happen to be voters, in El Paso numbering about 5,000 members? Let’s assume I assembled this group of individuals under the auspices of “A Greater Technology El Paso”. The only requirement for membership in my group is that I would pay them $100 a year for being a member. Yes, you read that right; I would pay each member $100 a year for them to be a member. In return, the only thing they need to do is go cast a vote for the candidate I name in my organization’s voter guide.
The reason I could afford to pay them the $100 is that I would take my 5,000-member list to each of the candidates vying for the county judge race and tell each candidate that I can deliver at least 10,000 votes to them on election night. Each member gets at least one family member to vote as well. In return for the votes, the candidate that gets on my list must publicly agree to support my technology initiative for the County of El Paso through their vote in office. I then would take the same list to each of the candidates running for county commissioner and offer them the same deal.
My technology initiative is simple. The elected officials agree to require each household in El Paso to have an official County email address. The public argument would be that having an official county email address reduces the resources the county has to expend to keep county residents informed and has the added benefit of increasing security for the email account holder. It also has the benefit of serving educational initiatives and job market growth by providing each county household an official email account. As part of the “promise” I extract from the politicians that appear on my voter guide is the requirement that the only “official” email address they would support is the one ending in “elp.net”. I happen to own that domain name.
According to the US Census, there are about 252,426 households comprised of a little over three individuals per household. This is current as of 2012. As part of the initiative, the county would impose a $12 a year fee to have the required email address. It would take about 150 servers connected to the Internet to handle about 300,000 email accounts, enough for the current number of households in El Paso. Each server would cost about $1,000 to deploy, a cost that would be absorbed by the county. Maintenance and customer support would cost about $500,000 in personnel and maintenance costs per year. Keep in mind that the county is already connected to the Internet and therefore, other than a possible increase in bandwidth the annual cost to the county would stay around $500,000 each year.
The county would generate about $3 million per year from the fee they levied. Subtracting out the $500,000 cost would leave $2.5 million. Since I own the domain name, I would lease the domain name to the county for a sole-source annual fee of $1.5 million dollars annually. The politicians would pontificate about how they have brought El Paso into the digital age and how they have reduced costs to the taxpayers by maximizing technology to communicate. In addition, they would gleefully proclaim that they are making $500,000 annually because of their astuteness. And the gravy for them is that they are no providing email addresses to those that can’t afford one.
As for me, after subtracting the $500,000 I pay my members, I would pocket $1 million each year for organizing this con. By the way, my only out of pocket cost would be the checks I write to each of my members, the paper to print my voter guide and the $12 a year for the domain name.
Why don’t I do it?
Because I would promptly be arrested for voter fraud and for participating in public corruption and I am sure, Jaime Esparza would think up other charges to levy upon me. The con is nothing more than a quid-pro-quo for votes. A similar con has existed in El Paso for many years and no one seems to care.
Consider the following.
Last Sunday, the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith held an “accountability session” for candidates running for office. The format is that each candidate must answer a “yes” or a “no” on a specific issue. Two of the issues directed at the county judge candidates were whether they would support bringing back voting stations to the churches and whether they would restore funding for Project Arriba. Each candidate had one minute to explain his or her position. Aliana Apodaca and Veronica Escobar participated in the session. Eddie Holguin did not.
The El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, or EPISO, was formed in 1980 by church leaders to address the problems of Colonias in El Paso. From its inception, EPISO was organized to “influence public officials”. According to a 1995 National Housing Institute profile, Maribeth Larkin is quoted as stating that “in a public forum,” there are many “consequences” to public officials that “refuse to cooperate”.
Clearly, EPISO’s goal is to influence public policy through voter mobilization.
The Catholic Diocese of El Paso states that as of the 2012 Official Catholic Directory there are 686,037 Catholics in El Paso. It is difficult to determine how many of the Catholic population is active in the Church and of those, how many would actually vote based on Church direction.
According to a CARA report, in 2013, approximately 24% of the Catholic population attends a weekly church service. The CARA report has tracked church attendance since 1999 and its data has varied from a low 20% to a high 28% during that period. CARA is a Georgetown University research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church.
Assuming that 20% of El Paso Catholics are active participants and that of those, only one percent are swayed by the EPISO accountability sessions then that would create a voting block of at least 13,000 voters committed to voting for a candidate of EPISO’s choosing.
Now consider that in the last three elections for county judge, the winning candidate needed an average of 22,706 votes to win the election. In the 1998 election, 5,272 votes handed Dolores Briones her first win. In 2002 and 2010, the winner needed about 23,000 votes to win. In the 2006 election, a runoff between Anthony Cobos and Barbara Perez required about 22,000 votes between the initial and the run-off election for Anthony Cobos to win.
Therefore, delivering a slate of 13,000 votes is significant for any county judge candidate. Even my make-believe 10,000-voter list would be significant for any candidate.
According to Project Arriba’s information packet, 78% of its funding comes directly from the taxpayers of the community. The rest, 22% is derived from “private funding”. Fifteen percent of its funding comes from the federal government; the County of El Paso provides 15% of the funding, 9% directly from the county and another 6% from the county’s hospital district. The city of El Paso provides 13% and the balance is provided by the state.
According to its IRS tax returns, Project Arriba raised $1,124,395 in 2010, $1,236,551 in 2011 and $1,097,492 in 2012. Project Arriba spends an average of 38% of its budget on payroll.
You might remember that last August city council awarded Project Arriba $300,000 annually. As part of the “agreement” that led to the support of the award, Project Arriba “promised not to solicit monies from politicians or candidates” during the term of the city’s monetary commitment to Project Arriba.
I’m sure some rationalize that the promise was made to the city and not to county and therefore forcing county candidates to commit to funding Project Arriba is in keeping with their promise. Some of you are also wondering how is it that I equate my made-up vote fraud example with EPISO and Project Arriba.
In 2008, Kevin Courtney, an EPISO organizer responded to an email that Fr. Ed Roden-Lucero, Vice-Chairman of Project Arriba had sent to Steve Ortega. Kevin Courtney was upset with Steve Ortega because Ortega had only committed $25,000 instead of the $100,000 Project Arriba was demanding from city council. In his response, EPISO leader Kevin Courtney clearly and unequivocally wrote that the EPISO group needed to make Steve Ortega “promise in front of his voters before the election” his support for Project Arriba. If not, according to the email, EPISO would “squeeze him [Ortega] and/or hurt him”.
Clearly, the EPISO leadership understands that their voter slate is a significant tool to guarantee what they want from any elected official before the candidate even makes it into office. Any candidate that ignores a proven potential candidate slate of 13,000 voters does so at the peril of their ability to win election night. Remember that EPISO’s voter slate represents about 50% of the votes needed to win the election.
Now tie in the vote to award monies to Project Arriba, an entity whose operating budget is comprised of 70% from government sources and the monetary connection is clearly connected. Therefore I ask you, what is the difference between the make believe scenario I laid out and the EPISO/Project Arriba accountability sessions with candidates?