House OKs legislation that would consolidate most local elections

Heath Haussamen / NMPolitics.net

Voters wait to cast ballots in a 2015 Soil and Water Conservation District election in Las Cruces. Turnout for that election was higher than usual but still in the single digits percentage-wise. Many believe consolidating smaller elections would reduce costs, increase public awareness and raise voter turnout.

With a goal of increasing voter turnout, the N.M. House of Representatives on Friday approved legislation that would consolidate most local elections, including those for cities and school districts, into one event.

House Bill 174 passed on a vote of 38-29 on Friday evening. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

“Creating a uniform voting day will increase citizen participation in the democratic process,” said Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Farmington and one of the sponsors of the bill. “It will improve awareness of the various local elections that are taking place and give voters greater say on the people, policies and taxes that affect them.”

The bill 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.

County clerks and the secretary of state would take on a greater role in overseeing elections. The state’s county clerks support HB 174. So does the New Mexico Association of Counties.

But as NMPolitics.net recently reported, 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 the bill for financial reasons. 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.

NMSU opposes the legislation, which would impact Doña Ana Community College (DACC) funding proposals, because of fees the college would have to pay to the state and possible increased advertising costs to compete with bonds proposed by other government entities.

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.

But Doña Ana County Clerk Scott Krahling says there will be about 10 different elections in his county in the next two years — and 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.

“Consolidating elections is not a magic bullet, but it plays a crucial role in removing barriers to voting,” Krahling has said. “…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.”

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