Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

4-28 Simplify Elections

MON, 4-28-08

SANTA FE - Last month I suggested that all elections, from the local water board to president of the United States be held at one time. It would make voting so much easier. We wouldn't have to remember that there are different polling places for different elections.
Think of the turnout if people voted only once every two years instead of practically every month. Santa Fe held 10 elections last year. Voters are suffering from election fatigue.
Even the experts can't keep up. Talking heads on television often get mixed up and disseminate bad information. A national political consultant recently told me he went to a local Democratic caucus meeting and the rules turned out to be completely different from what he expected.
And then there's the presidential nominating procedure, which screams for standardization. It is completely crazy and has the rest of the world laughing, I guarantee you.
My wife and I currently are on a 30-day cruise with passengers from 25 countries. They are pleasant about our situation but can't understand why we would do such a thing to ourselves.
Their assessment is that television station owners have created the system to make them fortunes from advertising. I don't think that's the way it happened, but it actually makes more sense than what really happened.
I ended the column with a plea for someone to figure a way out of this. The day the column appeared I received a call from Daniel Ivey-Soto, our former state elections director. He said that soon after he left the secretary of state's office, some county clerks asked him to work on legislation that would consolidate all non-partisan elections.
The idea makes good sense. Federal, state and county elections are partisan and all occur at the same time, except for presidential primaries, which are a problem of their own. It is the myriad local non-partisan elections that clog up the system.
Ivey-Soto tells me non-partisan elections include city council, school board, college board, water district, wind district, erosion district and conservation district elections. There also are bond elections and constitutional amendment elections. No wonder it's all so confusing.
Ivey-Soto says there is a minor problem but he tells me it can be resolved. There is no law against a person serving on more than one non-partisan board and many do, especially in small towns. That means a person might appear on the ballot more than once. It may take a minor change in state law to assure that can still happen when elections are consolidated.
The advantages of combining all non-partisan elections appear to far outweigh the disadvantages. A very major advantage is cost savings. Elections are costly to run, with significant staff, equipment, supplies and rental costs.
Poll workers are difficult to recruit and the closing of voter registration books 28 days before an election creates problems, including what to do about voters who move within the state and get caught between election cycles.
Currently there are complications involving in-person voting, early voting and absentee voting. Those difficulties easily can be ironed out with only one partisan and one non-partisan election to handle.
Some interests will argue that their non-partisan election is too important to be combined with others. Public schools especially argue that point. But, as Ivey-Soto points out, the only reason school board elections were created separately was because our original state constitution gave women the right to vote only in school board elections.
Schools like their separate elections because school employees often can control a separate election and get a bond issue passed or a favored candidate elected.
The election system is getting out of hand. It is time for simplification. Good luck to Ivey-Soto and others in coming up with some reasonable proposals for lawmakers to consider.

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