COMMENTARY: People want to vote, but they are having a hard time doing it. As I engage with people who are not voting in local elections, the most common response is frustration over trying to navigate the system.
If we care about people and their right to determine their own quality of life, then it is up to all of us to do something to give those being left out a better opportunity to participate in democracy.
This year’s City of Las Cruces election increased turnout from 8 percent to 10.5 percent, compared to the last election for these districts. The most effective outreach efforts are engaging with voters directly, so congratulations to the campaigns, nonprofit organizations, civic groups, our Election Advisory Council, and other community partners who worked to increase turnout.
Considering our limited resources, we are making steady progress. I applaud our efforts.
As county clerk, having administered over 30 elections, I am ready to do more. I am not ready to celebrate 10.5 percent turnout, especially when the data shows that only 2 percent of eligible voters under the age of 25 voted. I have learned over the years our biggest challenge is getting accurate information into the hands of voters. The county clerk, city clerks, schools, and other third-party entities who administer elections have limited — if any — resources to inform every voter directly, so much of the responsibility is left to campaigns.
As a result, we have a campaign-centric system in which voters learn about elections primarily from campaigns. Two problems arise from this system. First, similar to clerks’ offices, campaigns do not have the resources for aggressive marketing campaigns, especially in local elections. Second, a campaign’s focus is to get their candidate to win, as it should be. Consequently, not all voters are informed.
The challenge of informing voters is further complicated by our fragmented system. We have too many elections held at different times of the year, administered with different rules and practices, under the authority of too many different entities. This confuses even the most informed voters, whose lack of participation has to do with their struggle to figure it all out.
The County Clerk’s Office is involved with most of these elections, sometimes by law and sometimes not. We are not always the entity responsible for administering them and thus we do not have the authority to be an effective, central source of accurate and unbiased information for voters.
We will continue to pursue consolidating elections to simplify our system. By consolidating elections, we can open up a significant amount of resources to better inform voters, especially about the candidates and issues. This will allow our office to be the central source of information for all elections and make it easier and cheaper to inform residents about the election.
Make no mistake, this is not a silver bullet to increasing turnout. However, without these steps, our efforts to build a voting culture are even more difficult. We are also pursuing other state law reforms and working with community partners through our Election Advisory Council to build a voting culture.
People are the heart of democracy; let’s not ever forget that. Voting is about power, so I’m asking everyone to leverage our collective power and work toward strengthening democracy for generations to come.