The state House and Senate are close to an agreement on legislation that would consolidate most nonpartisan local elections in New Mexico on the same day, but whether they can strike a deal before the legislative session ends at noon Thursday isn’t clear.
The House, after 11 p.m. on Wednesday, voted to reject a Senate amendment that would have mandated holding the consolidated elections in June of odd-numbered years instead of November. The Senate could vote on Thursday to withdraw its amendment and send the bill to Gov. Susana Martinez. Or it could dig in its heels, and representatives of both chambers would negotiate in a conference committee.
The proposal has been hotly debated for the past two years. County clerks, the secretary of state and others say consolidating elections for school districts, community college districts, flood control districts, special zoning districts, soil and water conservation districts, water and sanitation districts, conservancy districts and many towns and cities would simplify voting and increase turnout, in addition to improving efficiency and reducing costs.
Opponents have included some school district officials, who say they don’t necessarily want more people voting if they’re not educated on school issues. They’ve said consolidation could reduce support for bonds and board members.
But the majority in both the House and Senate have voted to approve versions House Bill 98 this year, and now they’re down to haggling over a final detail: what month to hold such elections. The original intent of holding the nonpartisan elections in November of odd-numbered years was so that voters would know there’s a major election every November. Partisan elections for races like president, governor and county commissioner are held in November of even-numbered years.
But the Senate moved the nonpartisan elections to June in the bill because the City of Albuquerque, which would be allowed to opt-out of consolidated elections, holds its elections in October of odd-numbered years. Albuquerque didn’t want its election dates overlapping with elections for other governing bodies that would be held a month later, lawmakers said.
The House resoundingly rejected that argument Wednesday on a vote of 56-8. Reps. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, and Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said it made sense from a voter perspective to have a major election every November. And both pointed out that most schools are on break in June and many people are on vacation.
The bill’s purpose, Maestas said, is that every New Mexican “from this day forward knows that there’s an election in November.”
“The Senate amendments defeat the purpose of the bill,” he said. “… My friends in the Senate need to understand that they messed up this bill.”
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, appointed three members to a conference committee, should one be held — Maestas; Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo; and Paul C. Bandy, R-Aztec, a sponsor of the bill.
The Senate is scheduled to convene at 9 a.m. Thursday. The House is scheduled to convene at 8:30 a.m. The session ends at noon.
Lawmakers sent a similar bill to the governor last year. She didn’t act on it, so it died.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on NMPolitics.net.