Local Election Act Op-Ed
from Mandy Vigil, New Mexico Elections Director
There are some big changes coming to the way New Mexicans vote and, because of these changes, some real costs savings are available for municipalities throughout our state.
The upcoming changes are the result of 2018’s Local Election Act, a legislative overhaul of the way non-partisan local elections are run throughout the state (such as for municipal officers, school boards, and other governmental bodies with taxing authority).
Previously in New Mexico there were multiple non-partisan local elections held at different times of the year. This led to confusion among voters about when an election was happening in their community. It also resulted in extremely low-turnout elections where sometimes fewer than five percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, though local governments were still responsible for the cost of those elections.
Now, non-partisan local elections will happen on the same day every November in odd-numbered years (like 2019) as the Regular Local Election. The ballot you vote on in these elections will have races for school board members, Soil and Water Conservation District members, and other similar, non-partisan positions. Bond questions and local mill levies might also appear on these ballots. Partisan races, like those for president, governor, state senator, etc., will be conducted in the same way as always – the Primary Election will be in June and the General Election will be in November of even-numbered years.
However, in order for your municipality’s non-partisan races to be included in the Regular Local Election, your municipality must opt-in to the Local Election Act.
In terms of voting, being part of the Regular Local Election will mean an easier and more efficient time at the ballot box for eligible voters because there will be fewer elections on a more convenient yearly timeline.
In terms of cost, municipalities have the opportunity to save a lot of money if they opt-in to the Local Election Act. Sixty-one towns and cities in New Mexico have already opted-in, but time is running out for others to do so. The opt-in deadline is June 30, 2019.
In the past, when municipalities ran their own elections they had to reimburse the County for the costs. Total expenses for those elections could range anywhere from $15,000-30,000 for a smaller city like Alamogordo, to $300,000 for Albuquerque. Now, municipalities have the choice to opt-in to the Local Election Act and avoid those costs. When municipalities opt-in and begin including their local elections as part of the Regular Local Election, the County Clerk will run the entire election and the municipality will incur no costs for the election because those costs will be covered by the state.
It’s in the best interests of New Mexico’s voters and of municipalities to opt-in and include their municipal elections on the Regular Local Election ballot, as dozens of municipalities have already done. The money that municipalities previously spent to run their elections will decrease because the state will now cover those costs, while voter participation will increase because of the simplified voting process.
If your municipality decides not to opt-in to the Local Election, instead of voting for your municipal officers during the Regular Local Election you will vote for them in March of even-numbered years and your municipality will pick up the full cost.
Whether or not your municipality opts-in to the Local Election Act, if your municipality or other governing body (such as a school board) needs to run a special election, it must be run as a mail-in only election and the costs will be covered by the municipality or governing body.
While some municipalities still have to decide about opting-in by the June 30 deadline, voters like you only need to do what you’ve always done – focus on learning about the issues and candidates and make sure you’re registered to vote or that your voter registration is up-to-date. Just visit NMvote.org to get started today.
Mandy Vigil is the Elections Director for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.