Bill to streamline elections stirs debate

Aztec City Commission opposes bill to consolidate local elections

Hannah Grover
Voter Walter Eaton completes his school board election ballot Feb. 7 at Judy Nelson Elementary School in Kirtland. A local state lawmaker is proposing that all local elections be consolidated and held on the same day.
  • State Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, co-sponsored the bill to consolidate local elections.
  • The bill has passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 38-29.
  • The Aztec City Commission has approved a resolution expressing opposition to the bill.
  • Proponents say the bill will increase voter turnout

FARMINGTON — A bill to consolidate local elections has drawn a backlash from municipalities like Aztec.

The bill calls for holding local elections on the same day. It would include school district, soil and water conservation district, and city government elections, as well as others. The elections would take place on the the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November in odd-number years.

The Aztec City Commission approved a resolution expressing opposition to the bill during a meeting on Tuesday. Mayor Sally Burbridge said she is concerned about potential confusion among residents about the separation between the city government and the school district. She also expressed concerns about having nonpartisan elections at the same time as partisan elections.

The measure also has drawn criticism from city officials in Silver City and Las Cruces.

State Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, presented the bill on the House floor and was one of its co-sponsors.

"Creating a uniform voting day will increase citizen participation in the democratic process," Bandy said in a press release. "It will improve awareness of the various local elections that are taking place and give voters greater say on the people, policies and taxes that affect them."

According to the bill's fiscal impact report, it is unknown how much the consolidated elections will cost and whether they would save money. The fiscal impact report states the best comparison to what it would cost for a consolidated election is to look at what statewide primaries cost. In 2014, the gubernatorial primary cost the state nearly $3 million, the report states. The bill also establishes a local election fund, which would require each municipality to pay an annual $150 fee to the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a 38-29 vote. Among local lawmakers, Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland; and Bandy voted in favor of the bill while Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington; and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, voted against it. The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

Consolidating elections could potentially increase turnout for elections that historically have drawn small numbers of voters, including school board elections. During the February school board elections, 22 people voted in Aztec, and 26 people voted in Bloomfield. Farmington, which had a bond election at the same time, had 1,350 people vote in the February school board election, and the Central Consolidated School District had 319 people vote in its election. By contrast, a total of 14,406 ballots were cast in San Juan County in June during the presidential primary election.

Aztec Commissioner Sherri Sipe, who has helped count absentee ballots during elections, expressed concerns that having a more crowded ballot could lead to more people not following the directions.

"I'm real leery when the state says it's going to streamline something," she said.

Commissioner Katee McClure said she would like to see voter turnout increase.

"What I did read about streamlining, I liked," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.