Making Sense of Sierra County’s 2020 Vote Counts

by Diana Tittle and Tom Plant | November 9, 2020
4 min read
The local Republican party enters each election cycle with an edge over local Democrats in terms of the number of party-identified registered voters. Between 2016 and 2020 the Republican base increased here by 10 percent, while the number of registered Democrats declined by about 1 percent.

Greater numbers, greater turnout and greater appeal explain why the Republicans dominated the general election vote here.

This is not to say that the Democrats did not turn out their base. They did. But so did the Republicans, and they had a decided edge over the Democrats in terms of the percentage of registered voters in Sierra County who identify with their party.

Another factor in the commanding votes racked up by Republican candidates locally was inroads made with independent voters. It’s impossible for even the best-run field campaign to turn out 100 percent of a party’s base, so it follows that Republican candidates who recorded vote counts equivalent to or higher than the number of registered Republicans in Sierra County garnered support from voters unaffiliated with either party and possibly even some dissaffected Democrats.

Case in point: Republican Crystal Diamond, a Sierra County resident who racked up 3,752 votes in the county in her race for the New Mexico Senate seat in District 35. Diamond’s tally exceeds the number of registered Republicans in Sierra County by 29 votes. She amassed more votes locally than even President Trump, who received 3,541 votes here. Both candidates clearly won significant support from non-Republicans.

Let’s look at the following table comparing the total votes cast here for the Republican and Democratic nominees for president in 2020 and 2016 to see at a glance the impact of the local Republican party’s greater numbers, greater turnout and greater appeal. Energized Republicans turned out 531 more votes for the Trump-Pence ticket this year than in 2016.

Interestingly, the Democratic ticket also attracted more votes than in 2016. Indeed, the Biden-Harris campaign increased its final tally here by 40 percent over the previous election cycle.

Biden’s performance underscores a fact that is not immediately apparent when assessing the losses experienced by Democratic candidates running to represent Sierra County in Congress and the state assembly. It may come as a surprise to learn that local Democrats did a better job of turning out their base this year than in the previous election cycle. For evidence, let’s look at the following table comparing vote counts in the 2020 and 2018 New Mexico District 2 Congressional races, which both times saw Democrat Xochitl Torres Small pitted against Republican Yvette Herrell.

Incumbent Small enjoyed a greater turnout for her candidacy this year than in her first Congressional race in 2018. She recorded a 15 percent increase in her Sierra County vote count and a 20 percent gain district-wide. But Herrell’s gains were even more significant. This election cycle Herrell received 31 percent more votes in Sierra County and 45 percent districtwide, to win the NMCD2 seat decisively.

The race that did not precisely conform to the patterns described above was that for the New Mexico House seat in District 38. Republican incumbent Rebecca Dow improved her performance in her second winning campaign against Democratic challenger Karen C. Whitlock by broadening her appeal.

At least on paper Dow was at a disadvantage in terms of size of her base, however. In District 38, as of Oct. 30, 2020, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 43 to 35 percent.

But Whitlock underperformed in both 2020 and 2018 in turning out Sierra County’s Democratic voters. For evidence, compare the 1,630 votes Whitlock received from Sierra Countians in 2020 to the 2,100 votes cast locally this year for another losing Democrat, New Mexico Senate aspirant Neomi Martinez-Parra.

Whitlock’s Sierra County shortfall proved decisive in both election cycles. In 2020 Whitlock lost to Dow in Sierra County by 1,774 votes. Dow’s lead here accounted for 90 percent of her winning tally of 1,969 votes districtwide. In 2018, the number of votes by which Dow prevailed over Whitlock in Sierra County exceeded by 177 votes Dow’s winning margin of 1,041 districtwide.

Dow’s wild card continues to be her unshakable popularity in her home county, even with Democrats.


Diana Tittle is the Sun’s editor. Tom Plant, the Sun’s researcher, assisted with the preparation of the tables.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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