Low voter turnout seems to be a chronic issue in local elections, but recently passed legislation in New Mexico aims to turn that around.
State lawmakers passed the Local Election Act in February, which automatically consolidates nonpartisan local elections like school boards and special districts into November of odd-numbered years. Municipalities may opt-in and be added to the ballot. The law also creates a requirement for special elections to be conducted by mail.
In Las Cruces, Doña Ana County Clerk Scott Krahling introduced the law to the city council at a recent meeting and said the act will help simplify elections for voters.
“Right now, the way that elections are scheduled is we’ve got them in January, in February, in March and in May. It’s kind of a fragmented system that is really very, it’s really difficult for voters to try to figure out how to navigate and so the Local Election Act consolidates all of our local nonpartisan elections into one local election day,” Krahling said. “Municipalities have the option to join into that election and so today we’re here talking to the city about what it would look like if they were to opt-in.”
Krahling said if the city chooses to opt-in, the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office will administer elections in November of odd-numbered years. If Las Cruces takes no action, the city will continue to hold its own elections but move them to March of even-numbered years. General elections will remain unchanged.
Las Cruces resident Maria Ramos said she’s in favor of the city opting in and thinks it will help increase voter turnout.
“I have been very frustrated by the state of our political affairs in this country as whole overall and I really feel like one of the main ways to address some of that is to get people engaged in the process and I really think that it starts with people feeling that their vote has an impact and significance,” Ramos said. “I think that increasing voter participation and engagement and making things easier for people to show up is really a fundamental part of making sure that we shift our democracy into being a true democracy where everyone is represented.”
District 6 City Councilor Yvonne Flores agreed.
“I’m in support of the consolidation of elections primarily because it means that people who don’t normally vote will be motivated to vote because they know that there’s a certain time to go to vote for everything that they can possibly vote on in that election,” Flores said.
Along with consolidated elections, the city can also choose what type of runoff elections it holds. Krahling said the city currently uses a separate top-two runoff election for when candidates fail to receive 40 percent of the vote, held about a month after the first election.
But Krahling said a ranked-choice voting system, which Santa Fe used for the first time in March, allows voters to rank candidates by preference and results in an instant-runoff, which he said reduces election costs and provides voters with more choice.
“Ranked-choice voting gives voters more options. Instead of voting just for one person, you show up and you rank all of the options that are there, or if you don’t like any of them you can just show up and you can vote for one person. But if you’ve got say four candidates, you can rank them one through four and so it gives the voter more power,” Krahling said. “It changes the dynamics of the campaign because candidates are no longer competing in a zero-sum game where either you’re supporting me or you’re not.”
Ramos said she thinks a switch to ranked-choice voting will re-empower voters in the election process.
“I think that a lot of people are wanting to disrupt the way the system has been working because it hasn’t been working for everyone, and so even if it’s non-partisan and non-backed by specific parties, you still have a lot of this dynastic rule even in local elections where certain people are the ones that are kind of the shoe-ins to win and I’d love to see that disrupted,” Ramos said.
The law goes into effect July 1.