Historically high voter turnout characterized New Mexico elections on Tuesday even as they went in opposite directions ideologically.
In Doña Ana County, progressive-backed candidates won two seats on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board. In Zone Three, Kevin Bixby received 521 votes and Joe Delk received 285. In Zone Four, D. Craig Fenske received 1,812 votes and Kent Thurston received 841 votes.
County Clerk Scott Krahling said the turnout for the election was historic. Of the 70,654 eligible voters, 3,459 voted in the election.
That was the highest turnout the county had seen for a conservation district election, at about 5 percent. Meanwhile, the City of Santa Fe saw a 37.7 percent turnout on Tuesday for an election to raise the tax on sugary beverages to fund pre-K programs. That proposal easily failed by about 15 points — but that turnout, according to the county clerk there, was also historic. The tax was pushed by progressives but opposed by the beverage industry.
The voter turnout in the two elections continued the trend of increased turnout in New Mexico elections since President Donald Trump’s election in November. Voter turnout also increased in several school district elections around New Mexico in February.
Krahling, in Doña Ana County, said the turnout was still dismal.
“While five percent is the highest turnout we’ve seen in this election, it is another sad turnout for a local election,” Krahling said. “With two elections back-to-back we will never get the turnout we need in local elections. In these past two elections, the school board election and this election, we had increased turnout — but it is unacceptable.”
Krahling helped lead an effort in the recent state legislative session to pass the Local Elections Act, a bill that would consolidate local, nonpartisan elections into one election with a goal of simplifying elections and increasing turnout. The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature with bipartisan support but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
“Consolidating our local elections will increase turnout. It is the answer,” Krahling said. “We need a direct pathway to voting. Let’s leave sensationalism and politics out of it, and get people voting again.”
Meanwhile, in Santa Fe, Gov. Martinez had a message for state lawmakers, who she’s fighting over tax increases at the state level: “Tonight’s results send a clear message: Even in arguably the most liberal city in the state, New Mexicans don’t have the appetite to pay higher taxes,” she said.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales had a different message: “If one thing was clear in this debate, it is that there is overwhelming support for finding a way to make sure every child in Santa Fe and in New Mexico can go as far as their dreams will take them,” he said. “We may not all agree on how we get there, but that’s okay, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Now we get back to work, knowing that we have far more in common that the things that have long divided us.”
“Our state is struggling, and there are a lot of ideas out there about how to correct it,” said Gonzales, a possible 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate. “But the one thing I know to be true is that whatever we do, it has to start with doing better by our kids.”