Commentary: I hope the voters in Hatch are happy with their school board members. Because if they aren’t, there’s not a thing they can do about it this November. All three school board races were decided on candidate filing day when only one person filed to run. And so, we can congratulate Merlinda Hinjosa, Lupe M. Castillo and Greg A. Mitchell for their wins. As for the Hatch voters, something other that congratulations would seem appropriate. Their only contested race this year will be for trustee.
Las Cruces has just the opposite situation. We’ve got enough candidates in the mayoral race (10) to fill a Democratic presidential debate stage. Of the seven races in Las Cruces, both municipal and school board, not one is uncontested. But with all that opportunity comes a new challenge that is likely to disproportionately impact those voters who lamented the loss of the one-vote straight-party ballot, not because they believed it gave their side a tactical advantage, but because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of filling in all those bubbles.
The municipal election in Las Cruces this year will have ranked-choice voting for the first time. So, instead of having just one bubble after each candidate’s name, there will be 10.
In his Sunday cartoon for the Sun-News, Bob Diven suggests that ballots will look more like a grocery list unfolded to the floor.
For those intimidated by or distrustful of what is a pretty significant change in the way we pick our local leaders, the County Clerk’s Office has stressed that you don’t have rank all 10 candidates. If you want to vote for just one, like you always have, that’s fine. Your vote will be counted along with all the other first-place votes, and if any candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, they win. If no candidate gets 50 percent, they will throw out all of the votes for the last-place finisher, and count again. As long as your candidate doesn’t finish last, your vote will continue to count. They keep doing that until somebody gets to 50 percent.
The obvious advantage of ranked choice voting is that it saves the cost of holding a runoff election. But cost-savings should be a secondary consideration when it comes to elections. The most important advantage of ranked choice voting is that far more people participate in the final decision. Runoff elections routinely have dismal voter turnout.
The concept is still too new to know if it helps either side politically. But in theory, it should advantage more moderate candidates who have a broader appeal to a wider number of voters, and disadvantage those candidates who style of campaigning angers on antagonizes voters.
There is a second challenge to the above-mentioned disproportionately impacted voters, which has always been true for municipal election. They are nonpartisan. That means when you get your ballot, not only will there be 10 bubbles after every candidate’s name in the mayor’s race, but there will not be a D or an R next to the name. Voters who use those designations as their North Star guiding all ballot decisions may be a bit lost.
But for voters who look beyond the party and take an interest in their city or schools, there is real opportunity this year. Consolidation of elections means we can have our voices heard in all those races at one time. We can either call for change, or we can demonstrate our support for the current leadership.
There are a lot of first-time candidates in this year’s races. I look forward to getting to know all of the candidates better between now and November.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.