COMMENTARY: Every year county clerks in New Mexico assist in conducting a wide variety of elections, some of them by state mandate and others voluntarily. In doing so, clerks are faced with frustrated and dissatisfied voters – a frustration that is often shared by the clerks. I pose the following questions to you, the reader:
- Would you like to be informed regularly about elections in your area (as opposed to the day of or day before)?
- When voting, are qualifications for casting a ballot confusing? Do they turn you away from voting?
- Can your tax dollars be better spent while also making elections more efficient?
- Are you frustrated with having to vote at different locations depending on the type of election?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, would you support a novel concept for standardizing how elections are conducted, regardless of the type of election? If so, this strategy would make you a more informed voter, set standards for conducting all elections, and make elections more efficient, both financially and productively.
‘Minor’ elections are sometimes missed
We often read editorials and reports on low voter turnout for a school board, bond, hospital or other type of “minor” election. Sadly, the majority of voters are hearing about these elections for the first time, resulting in their inability to participate. This often causes taxpayers frustration and disconcertion, leading to an assumption they were purposely left uninformed to sway the outcome one way or another.
However, the great news is this is a myth. The lack of exposure is primarily due to the lack of funding a board may have to advertise and to better inform the public.
It is fact that on Election Day the public is sure to never miss is the presidential election. This is due to the mass media coverage that begins at least a year in advance with speculation of who the candidates will be. If this doesn’t catch your attention, the flood of propaganda that hits your mailbox or blares on the radio waves and television is sure to remind you that November is the month we will all be voting. In addition to mail and media attention, you encounter campaign signs that litter every urban street corner.
With so much attention and the millions of dollars spent by candidates and political parties to ensure you do not forget to vote for them, you’re sure to remember the first Tuesday in November. As a result of the constant reminders to vote, as well as the mental notion that whoever wins will dictate our future, presidential elections yield the highest voter turnout.
Update voting qualifications
The media attention and money spent to gain votes isn’t the only disparity between our national elections versus our smaller local elections.
There are many variances when conducting a local election in comparison to our federally regulated national elections. When voting in some local elections, you must own land and must be registered to vote “anywhere in the state.” Some elections do not provide early or absentee voting.
It’s time to update all voting qualifications for local elections to mirror federal elections. By doing this, we can reduce public confusion and increase voter turnout as well as confidence by assuring people that their votes will be handled properly.
Consolidate smaller elections
It makes much more sense to consolidate all the smaller elections, i.e. school board, water board, hospital board, special tax, into one odd-year election on one day. This will help budgets by allowing every entity to share in the costs. It will allow for more polling places and an improved voter experience.
Having multiple elections at the same time will also lead to more discussion throughout the community, which will serve as a reminder to vote.
It makes sense that the office charged with protecting and maintaining voter registration rolls also be charged with conducting these elections. Not only are county clerks responsible for the voter rolls but they also have the most experience in conducting elections. Establishing a clear line of responsibility for all special elections would make it easier for the various entities to budget for these elections.
Of course there is a lot more to this idea than just saying we should combine all small local elections. But can it be done? Yes it can!
Let’s start the discussion now so that we can improve the voting experience and make it more efficient. We are lucky to have many great county clerks and deputy county clerks in New Mexico who are fighting to make this a reality. It would benefit all New Mexicans to support their efforts to pass legislation that would standardize all elections.
To read the most recent piece of legislation introduced related to consolidating elections click here.
Jimenez is a former Doña Ana County chief deputy clerk, N.M. County Clerk Affiliate past president and former County Clerk Affiliate lobbyist. He is also a certified public official by NMSU County College.