Commentary: I support House Bill 174 to consolidate local, non-partisan elections. I feel strongly that I can contribute to this debate in 2 ways. First, I am a voter and I want to vote in every election; and second, I work in the Dona Ana County Clerk’s office administering elections.
As a voter, I am offended when I hear some of the arguments presented by the opposition against consolidating elections. They imply that I am incapable of being an informed voter. If we truly want people to vote and participate in democracy, we need to restore our faith in voters. If we believe that misinformed voters are a problem, then we need to challenge ourselves to leverage all our resources to inform them. Streamlining elections into one local election is a real solution to this real problem that I will discuss.
I am not moved to vote when I hear that I would not understand a potentially lengthy ballot with local issues that directly impact my life. Yes, I understand that some issues are complex. However, I prefer spending my time learning about the issues and candidates, rather than spending my time understanding whether I am eligible to vote in any one of our 13 upcoming local elections in the next 18 months. This means learning the different deadlines, the different ways early and absentee voting are conducted for each election, and where I need to vote.
My time is valuable too. We all have hectic lives. If we consolidate all local elections, then voters will know to expect an election every November. Partisan elections in even-numbered years, and local, non-partisan elections in odd-numbered years. We will worry less about whether we have time to vote in 13 elections, and know we can vote in November. Moreover, voters can expect that there will be one registration deadline, one date when early voting begins, and one way to submit an absentee ballot. This makes complete sense to me.
One consolidated local election eliminates the complexity of learning about every election that may not be relevant to a voter, and more effort can go into informing voters about what matters the most – the issues and candidates.
Informing voters is the greatest challenge the Clerk’s office faces. It is impossible to fully inform all voters for a variety of reasons, but primarily due to limited resources. Even if we had an unlimited budget and poured it into informing voters, inevitably we would not reach every voter in our vast county. Informing voters about elections with different sets of rules makes this task complicated, at best. The Clerk’s office has initiated several tools that make this task easier; such as a marketing campaign informing voters, an outreach program that takes registration to people, sample ballots on-line and at voting sites, and an Election Advisory Council that brings partners together invested in increasing voting. I have participated in these efforts and have shared in the success of these partners working together. Last year, we registered over 1,000 new voters, processed approximately 9,000 voter registrations for the general election, and had the largest voter turnout in these elections in the history of our county.
As a voter, the message I hear from the Clerk’s office is clear - they want me to vote in every election, and they are doing their best to remove barriers that will keep me from voting. I’m asking you to send the same message loud and clear. I am asking our legislators to help get voters to the polls and keep democracy alive. One election every November makes good sense and is a solid step to increase voting.