Pending legislation would help save democracy

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COMMENTARY: Democracy in America is sinking like the Titanic. There are too many bystanders watching it go down, taking its victims — the voters — with it. There will only be survivors if we act now with a sense of urgency. Saving democracy requires reform, not another policy.

Scott Krahling

Courtesy photo

Scott Krahling

In this year’s legislative session, our legislators have the opportunity to reform the election process and make a lasting impact for voters in New Mexico. Our legislators have the opportunity to create a better system that will allow democracy to flourish, a system that can invite people to participate in with confidence.

As an elected leader and public administrator for almost a decade, I know there are many opportunities to make a difference in people’s daily lives, and it is important that we invest time and resources into these opportunities. It is equally important, if not more so, that we recognize the rare occasions when we can make real and lasting change for generations to come.

There were 41 election-related bills in the current session of the Legislature. Only two bills are still alive, albeit with one foot in the lifeboat. These election bills, especially working together, will bring us closer to reforming a broken election system rather than simply patching it up with another policy band-aid.

I support the remaining bills — House Bill 174 to consolidate local elections, and House Bill 98, which provides more access to absentee voting for visually impaired voters, increases access for all voters with online absentee ballot applications, and strengthens protections for keeping registration information for victims of domestic violence confidential.

My staff and I have been in Santa Fe diligently advocating on behalf of our voters — not only speaking with legislators, but petitioning our governor to sign the bills should they reach her desk. Back in Doña Ana County, I have met with over 100 people this year about building a voting culture so that everyone votes in every election, and about how consolidating local elections is a component of our shared vision.

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As with any legislation, compromises have been made. Initially there were two competing bills to consolidate elections. After a bipartisan compromise, the two sponsors combined their bills. In addition, the Municipal League initially opposed the bill. That changed after an amendment from Sen. Mary Kay Papen was passed giving municipalities an opt-out clause.

Originally, I thought the opt-out amendment should kill the bill, but after consideration I realized this is not a deal-breaker. I lobbied the County Clerks’ Affiliate, the statewide association of clerks, to continue to support the bill with the amendment because I strongly believe it is still a significant improvement for voters and moves us a step closer to reform. It is also an opportunity for counties and cities to engage with each other, and for voters to engage their city councilors and mayors about why consolidating elections is the right thing to do.

When this becomes law, tell your city councilors and mayors that opting out of consolidating local elections keeps us trapped in a broken election system.

Local elections are our most democratic elections. It is where the popular vote counts and literally a handful of votes can win or lose a race. Democracy can flourish in local elections if we create the right pathways to voting. Let the failed system sink, but save the voters and save our democracy.

Scott Krahling, a Democrat, is the Doña Ana County clerk.

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