Turnout in Tuesday’s school board elections in several districts around the state was up significantly from 2013, the last time the same seats were up for grabs.
At a time when voter turnout has generally been declining nationwide, the school board elections were the first test of whether the increased activism and protest seen around the nation following President Donald Trump’s election in November would be followed increased voter turnout.
Whether there’s a correlation or not, the answer in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe was yes.
Turnout was most substantial in Santa Fe, where about 8,300 people — nearly 10 percent of registered voters — showed up to make their voices heard on a $100 million bond question and pick someone to serve on the Santa Fe Community College board, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican. That’s almost double the percentage of registered voters who showed up four years ago, the newspaper reported.
School board elections in that district usually draw about 5 percent of voters, the newspaper said.
In Albuquerque, meanwhile, turnout was at 6.6 percent for the Albuquerque Public Schools board elections, according to New Mexico Political Report. That’s also nearly double, percentage-wise, the turnout for races for the same board seats four years ago, the news organization reported.
In the Las Cruces Public Schools board elections — three seats were up for grabs — more than 4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s election. That’s about double the turnout by percentage in 2013, according to information from the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office.
In the Gadsden Independent School District in Southern Doña Ana County turnout was up slightly, but not as significantly. In the Hatch Valley Public Schools election, turnout was down from 2013, possibly due to there being no contested races on the ballot this year.
Despite the increase in turnout in the state’s urban centers, single-digit turnout is nothing special. Doña Ana County Clerk Scott Krahling called turnout in his county “dismal” and said “we all should be concerned.”
Krahling and others have advocated for legislation that would consolidate smaller elections in New Mexico into one election to be held every year that state, county and federal elections aren’t held.
In other words, one year we’d vote in federal races, state races such as Legislature and Public Regulation Commission, and county races like commission and sheriff. The next year we’d vote in local-government races all at once, which could include city and school district elections and even smaller contests for positions with government agencies like water and sanitation districts. Those smaller elections are currently held separately.
Proponents of consolidation argue that it would cut costs in addition to reducing confusion, generating buzz and making it easier for people to vote, which would increase turnout. But bills to consolidate elections have failed at the Roundhouse during recent sessions.
Krahling, who took office last month, said he’s “begun to meet with community partners to discuss how consolidating elections increases access to voting.”
“I’m not surprised in the dismal turnout when the laws in New Mexico are designed to confuse voters,” Krahling said. “Voters have to jump through hoops to get to the polls in local elections. In the next couple of years we have as many as 10 different elections, which means that voters need to understand 10 different registration deadlines, absentee ballot deadlines, early voting periods, where they vote and if they are eligible to vote, much less who the candidates are and how the issues impact their daily lives.”
“We need to figure out how one combined election can work for everyone,” Krahling said.