COMMENTARY: Eddie Blackburn works five days a week at a hot spring in Truth or Consequences. He’s the head of maintenance for the locally-owned establishment, where he works hard keeping the facilities repaired, cleaned, and in beautiful shape. He is also an artist and was creating a tile mural depicting a Japanese maple tree when we first talked about the election. That’s when Eddie told me that he was a convicted felon.
Eddie is 37 now. His life has changed a lot since he was found guilty of two felony drug charges, one at age 19 and one at age 22. He’s the father of two little girls and he worries about what kind of world we are creating for his children. He also felt powerless to do anything to change that — until he found out that felons don’t forfeit the right to vote in New Mexico.
Felony disenfranchisement is America’s less literal take on the ancient practice of civil death. According to federal law, Eddie has lost his right to bear arms, but there is no federal law prohibiting felons from voting, which is where the states step in. New Mexico, like the majority of states, automatically grants voting rights back to convicted felons after their time is served and they are no longer on probation or parole.
Eddie had received a mailer urging him to register to vote for this year’s election and had jokingly handed it to a friend. When she told him it wasn’t a joke, that he could actually register and vote, his interest was piqued, but he remained unconvinced. However, after our discussion by the Japanese maple tree mural, Eddie looked into it more. He registered to vote online at the beginning of October, chose not to be affiliated with a political party, and cast his ballot on Election Day.
He didn’t want to vote early. It didn’t feel as authentic to him as the Election Tuesday experience.
“I feel good,” Eddie said after he cast his ballot. “I feel like this vote let me contribute for the first time ever.” He lamented the choices for president and wished he would have been able to cast his first ballot for a different person, but was comfortable with his choice anyhow.
When he voted, Eddie walked into the County Clerk’s Office and right away was handed the general election voter guide with information on the proposed constitutional amendment and the general obligation bond questions. He was surprised by how simple it was to walk in, give his name, sign, and then fill in the bubbles that corresponded to his choice. He chuckled and said, “It scanned properly, because I went to public school and know how to fill in the bubbles on a scantron.”
His voice is back, and he gets to use his vote to enact positive change. He is tired of the rhetoric that he hears from the major political parties and is frustrated by what he sees as the public’s unwillingness to question what they hear. Eddie struggles with what he sees as blatant lies perpetuated by the parties.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I look around and see what people are complaining about and it’s just not reality.”
With his right to vote reinstated and utilized, now he’s back to the daily grind, like most working Americans.
“I just scanned my ballot and went back to work,” he said.
Jessica Murphy is a small vegetable farm owner and operator who lives near Truth or Consequences. She identifies as a small “l” moderate libertarian with a passion for decentralized power and the non-aggression principle. She spends her spare time volunteering for a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering and connecting families with young children in order to prevent child abuse and neglect.