Low voter turnout is becoming the norm. What can we do about it?

Albuquerque at sunset. (photo cc info)

Will Keightley / Creative Commons

Albuquerque at sunset. (photo cc info)

Voter turnout in Tuesday’s Albuquerque municipal election was 8.24 percent — a historically low percentage that follows a state and national trend.

City Clerk Natalie Howard reportedly said that might be the lowest turnout in a municipal election in Albuquerque ever. So turnout, not the unsurprising results of the city council races or various tax, bond and ballot questions, is the story of the 2015 Albuquerque election.

“They’ll wait hours in line for the Balloon Fiesta but won’t wait a little to vote,” Randy Perraglio of Española complained during discussions NMPolitics.net facilitated on Facebook.

Alright, blame voters.

“But blame the lack of leadership too,” Kyle Armstrong of Corrales wrote. “The mayor couldn’t be bothered to even take a position on the most ‘controversial’ measure on the whole ballot. Complacency seems to be the mood of the state, and the one thing we have in abundance is politicians unwilling or incapable of trying to actually do anything of note.”

The truth is voter turnout has been dropping across America. Last year’s midterm congressional elections saw the lowest turnout in 72 years at 36.3 percent. New Mexico was just above that national average in 2014, at about 40 percent. The United States trails almost all other developed nations in voter turnout.

“People are fed up with government and feel with all the corruption it doesn’t matter who wins,” Jim Simonin of Las Cruces wrote on Facebook. “However, my wife and I vote in every election!”

Turnout was 12 percent in Albuquerque in 2011 — the last time the city council seats up for grabs on Tuesday were on the ballot. Turnout was 20 percent in 2013, when there was a mayoral race.

The trend is similar in Las Cruces. Turnout has fallen the last three times the mayor’s office has been up for grabs — from 29 percent in 2003 to 18.86 percent in 2011. With a mayoral contest on the ballot again next month, many expect turnout to continue to drop.

“The extreme factions of both parties have hijacked the political world and voters are staying away in droves as a result,” wrote Kent Simpson of Tucson, who used to live in Las Cruces. “Just take a look at the surge in those leaving both R & D to become independents in the past decade.”

The nationwide surge in registered independents is real. New Mexico has one of the higher percentages of registered independents in the nation at 19 percent.

“The public has grown tired of the ‘two-party’ deception,” John Lanning of Deming wrote on Facebook. “It really doesn’t matter which party you vote for any more, because they are both filled with the same pre-selected people.”

What do to?

As NMPolitics.net has previously reported, self-financing has characterized the Nov. 3 Las Cruces election thus far. The heavy reliance on self-funding comes as the city council is considering implementing a public financing system for elections beginning in 2017.

Proponents say public financing would increase participation by forcing candidates to collect lots of small donations from voters in order to qualify to receive public funds. That would lead to more engagement between candidates and voters, they argue.

But NMPolitics.net has analyzed elections with public financing systems in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and discovered it’s not clear that public financing increases voter turnout. It’s too early to add Tuesday’s data from Albuquerque into that analysis.

Claudia Anderson of Farmington mentioned mail-in ballots as another idea to improve turnout.

“Mail voting has worked in Washington State for a number of years now,” Anderson wrote on Facebook. “I’m surprised more states haven’t considered it.”

The New York Times wrote after 2014’s dismal nationwide turnout that there’s some evidence mail ballots help:

There was one useful lesson: When voting is made easier, more people vote. Colorado switched to a mail ballot system this year, and it had the fourth-highest turnout in the nation, substantially larger than in 2010. (It had a highly competitive Senate race, but did much better than many states with equally hot races.) Oregon, which also votes by mail, had the fifth-highest turnout, and Washington State, with a similar system, did better than the national average, though it had no major statewide races.

Emily Melancon of Albuquerque also called for better use of technology, writing on Facebook that elections should “be promoted more prominently on social media. Written press just doesn’t cut it in this day and age.”

State Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, tweeted that New Mexico needs to allow same-day and online voter registration. “I’ll work on this,” he wrote.

Consolidating elections

Former Doña Ana County Chief Deputy Clerk Mario O. Jimenez III wrote a column for NMPolitics.net in June arguing that smaller elections should be consolidated.

“We often read editorials and reports on low voter turnout for a school board, bond, hospital or other type of ‘minor’ election. Sadly, the majority of voters are hearing about these elections for the first time, resulting in their inability to participate,” Jimenez wrote.

But consolidating such elections into one would generate more buzz and increase turnout, Jimenez argued. Recent efforts at the Roundhouse to pass a consolidation bill have failed.

But it’s an idea some brought up during Tuesday night’s Facebook discussion on turnout for the Albuquerque election.

“Here in Santa Fe we had an election for the community college board, then a few weeks later an election for something else,” wrote Kimberly Fries Walker. “Why, oh why aren’t they coordinated?”

This BBSNews article was syndicated from NMPolitics.net, and written by Heath Haussamen. Read the original article here.