Supporting Democracy at the Local Level
Commentary: With national discussions about the protection of voting rights and the Congressional elections in 2022, residents of Southern New Mexico may not be focusing on the local elections that are coming up in November. Doña Ana County has five municipalities: Anthony, Hatch, Las Cruces, Mesilla, and Sunland Park. Depending on where you live, you may be voting for members of a school board, a city council, or other local positions and issues. In Las Cruces, three City council seats, three Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education seats, and a municipal judge position will be filled. There will also be elections in the Gadsden and Hatch school districts.
Often voters are less engaged in these elections than in those at the state and national levels, leading to lower voter turnout. The public may not be readily aware of the issues involved and candidates may not appear daily in the media. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has given new visibility to local government functions as city, county, and school board officials have been responsible for continuing the operations of their vital services. They are currently making decisions about the allocation of federal funds designed to speed recovery of the economy and address inequities that were magnified by the pandemic. Beyond the pandemic, local boards decide the extent of support for parks, streets, public safety, workforce development, and many other issues significant to our daily lives.
Local government bodies also provide relatively easy access to decision makers in terms of the public’s ability to observe their actions and provide input. In New Mexico, the Open Meetings Act specifies that agendas of meetings be available in advance and that, with limited exceptions, the business of these bodies be conducted transparently. In addition, the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) provides access to public information. Notably, public participation in meetings is not a requirement, but some organizations provide mechanisms for public input during meetings. One of the losses during the past 18 months was, for example, the opportunity for members of the public to speak in person at meetings. The practice was commonly replaced by reading emails submitted to the body.
Local elections are nonpartisan, candidates are not nominated by a political party; do not run as representatives of a political party; and are not identified by party on the ballot. Similarly, the League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico (LWVSNM) is a nonpartisan organization, in that it does not support or oppose political parties or candidates. It does encourage voters to get informed and engaged in local government. In early October, the LWVSNM will be providing printed and online English and Spanish voter guides and, with KRWG, candidate forums giving information for the November elections. The LWV US national service “VOTE411.org” provides election information and will include voter guides about local candidates. Check the LWVSNM website or KRWG for dates of the forums (https://www.lwvsnm.org/). All voters are urged to learn more about local issues and to actively engage in selecting well-prepared candidates to serve our local democracy.
Kathy Brook and Eileen VanWie, Co-Presidents
League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico