COMMENTARY: I am not surprised by the dismal turnout in the recent school board elections. The election laws in New Mexico confuse voters.
In Doña Ana County, 2,693 out of 61,540 voters cast their vote in an election that impacts our children’s daily lives. We should all be concerned by the low turnout because lack of participation kills democracy in our community.
Voters have to jump through too many hoops to get to the polls in local elections. In the next couple of years, we have as many as 10 different elections, the majority of them local, which means voters need to understand different registration deadlines, absentee ballot deadlines, early voting options, where they vote and if they are eligible to vote.
This leaves little room to learn about the candidates and how the issues impact our daily lives.
We can do a better job of informing voters if we consolidate all of our local elections into one day, and I am committed to figuring out how to make this work for everyone.
I have administered over 25 elections. I definitely see the positive impacts of consolidating local elections into one day in November during the years when we do not have our regular general election. This will increase voter turnout by making it easier to keep voters informed and it will create voting habits by making it easier for voters to remember when elections take place.
I have been meeting with different stakeholders in the community to listen to their concerns. Overall, while there are legitimate concerns, there is widespread support to consolidate local elections because of the positive impact it will have for people in our community.
We all want to increase voter turnout in local elections. We also agree that it can be accomplished by sharing widespread, accurate information to keep voters informed about the process, candidates, and issues that impact their future. Under the current structure no one has the resources to do this effectively and, subsequently, voters frequently miss local elections.
The benefits to consolidating local elections isn’t only increased voter turnout. We strengthen the integrity of elections by having one unified election code and uniform administration of all elections. It puts the election into the hands of the county clerk’s offices and their professional election administrators. We also use our limited resources more efficiently and it increases access to all qualified voters.
A potential solution is House Bill 174, the Local Elections Act, which is being heard at this year’s legislative session.
I support HB174 for the reasons listed here — but if the bill is not signed into law, I will work to build a coalition of community partners so that everyone is at the table as we move forward with making consolidated local elections a reality.
Consolidating elections is not a magic bullet, but it plays a crucial role in removing barriers to voting. It is urgent that we begin to build a voting culture that invites everyone to vote in every election. The consequence of not doing so is that we will continue to see low turnout in local elections and we fail to reach our highest potential.
At the Clerk’s Office, we believe that everyone should vote and have a role in their future. Moreover, we want to create a culture that inspires people to vote so that opting out is never a choice.
As county clerk, my goal is to build community partnerships that pursue democracy, because every individual has something valuable to offer our community. It is positive, nonpartisan action that fosters trust between government and people, encouraging participation by engaging each other. We need to build partnerships because the Clerk’s Office cannot build a voting culture alone. We all have a role in breathing life back into voting.
Scott Krahling, a Democrat, is the Doña Ana County clerk.