There will be about 10 different elections in Doña Ana County in the next two years. County Clerk Scott Krahling says that’s too many. It keeps voters constantly working to understand deadlines and if and where they can vote, he says, which leaves people “little room to learn about the candidates and how the issues impact our daily lives.”
And that, Krahling says, discourages people from voting.
Joyce Brinton Anderson of Los Alamos and Barbara Alvarez of Las Cruces agree.
“Here in Los Alamos County we had the November election, a mail-in bond election in January, and 10 days later the school board,” Anderson said. “We’re tired!”
“Having multiple elections during the year confuses us,” Alvarez said.
Krahling is among those proposing consolidating most local elections in New Mexico into one, which he says would simply voting, amplify attention, and increase efficiency and turnout.
But not all agree that consolidating elections is a good idea.
Officials with the Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) and New Mexico State University (NMSU) oppose a bill under consideration in current session of the state Legislature for financial reasons. And Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima says he can support consolidation of elections as long as so-called “home rule” cities like his can opt out — which the legislation doesn’t allow.
House Bill 174 would consolidate elections for cities, school districts, special hospital districts, community college districts, technical and vocational institute districts, learning center districts, arroyo flood control districts, special zoning districts, soil and water conservation districts, and water and sanitation districts beginning in 2019. In 2023 it would also add conservancy districts.
The bill would not consolidate elections for mutual domestics or homeowner associations.
If the bill becomes law, one November you’d vote for races like county commission, state Legislature and U.S. Congress, and the next you’d vote in races the legislation would consolidate, including school board and city council.
Voter turnout has generally been declining in the United States for some time, though it increased in several school board elections in New Mexico earlier this month in an early test of whether the increased activism following President Donald Trump’s election would be followed by increased voter turnout. A fiscal impact report for the legislation states that consolidating elections “is expected to increase voter turnout.”
County clerks and the secretary of state would take on a greater role in overseeing elections if the bill becomes law. The state’s county clerks support HB 174. So does the New Mexico Association of Counties.
But LCPS officials worry that they’d have a more difficult time convincing voters to approve general obligation bonds and tax mill levies that help fund construction projects if they had to compete with other government agencies on the same ballot, according to chief communications officer Jo Galván.
“We believe the electorate would begin to pick and choose which entity to support,” Galván said. “In this day of dramatic state budget cuts to public education, the bond/mill elections have become even more critical to fund new schools and repair older ones.”
Currently, the elections for county, state and federal races often include multiple funding proposals on the ballot. While proposals to fund things like universities, libraries and senior centers usually pass, some proposals don’t. In 2016, for example, voters rejected proposed taxes to help fund medical facilities in Grant and Sandoval counties and bonds to fund a new administration building in Mora County.
NMSU opposes the legislation, which would impact Doña Ana Community College (DACC) funding proposals. Renay Scott, DACC president, said the college would have to pay higher fees to state, and consolidating might require increased advertising costs “in order to ensure voters understood the bonds and whether or not there were tax increases as a result of the bonds appearing on the ballot together.”
But for many the hope of increased turnout makes consolidating a good idea. Las Cruces Mayor Pro Tem Gregory Z. Smith is among them. He said he was “surprised and sorry that LCPS, given the low turnouts in their elections, would spurn this opportunity to increase voter participation.” Turnout in the LCPS Board election earlier this month was about 4 percent — double what it was four years ago but still low.
Krahling has been meeting with government officials, including Galván and Superintendent Greg Ewing from the Las Cruces schools, to try to build support. In a recent commentary, Krahling wrote that he’s committed to bringing various partners to the table.
“Consolidating elections is not a magic bullet, but it plays a crucial role in removing barriers to voting,” he wrote. “…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.”
NMPolitics.net has facilitated a number of social media discussions on consolidation in recent months. Most, like Alvarez and Anderson, have expressed support. Emmitt Janes of Las Cruces, for example, called consolidation a “good idea.”
“Get people used to voting every November instead of randomly throughout the year,” Janes wrote. “One year it’s local elections, the next it’s the partisan general elections.”
Lisa Walker of Chaparral wrote that consolidating elections “should have been done years ago.”
Jody Crowley of Las Cruces wrote that she likes the proposal, but said it “makes too much sense for it to be passed” by lawmakers.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Republican Rep. James E. Smith of Sandia Park and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque. On a 4-3 vote, members of the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants & Cultural Affairs Committee gave it a do-pass recommendation on Feb. 9. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Monday at 1:30 p.m. in room 309 at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.