The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Participation more relevant than cost

 

April 21, 2019



In 2018, lawmakers approved an overhaul of New Mexico election laws, requiring local governments to hold special elections entirely by mail.

The question I keep hearing is, how much does this special election cost now than it did a few years ago?

I understand concerns about how much a new system costs versus an old system. Government’s given itself a lot of responsibilities over the years, and it’s bound to do those things as efficiently as possible. Whether they succeed or not changes frequently.

But I don’t think that’s the most important question. The question by which we need to judge mail-in ballots are, “Are we getting more, better-informed participants?”

I haven’t had an opportunity to do a mail-in ballot since the law change, as I don’t live in any of the districts that have held elections. But I remember when I last did a mail-in ballot as a college student. I had about a week to look over each race and ballot question, and I studied each one. Granted, I studied it like a college student studies anything, but that’s more work than I would have done had I walked into the community center and weighed a race for the first time.

One of my favorite Eddie Murphy movies is “The Distinguished Gentleman.” Murphy plays career con-man Jeff Johnson, whose congressman of the same name dies of a heart attack before what would have been an easy re-election. The con-man runs as Jeff Johnson and stays below the radar. An election day scene shows a husband asking his wife who they usually vote for, and presumably enough people do the same thing the new Jeff Johnson is elected.

I know the premise was laughable when the movie debuted, and it’s even harder to imagine it happening with the Internet. But if mail-in ballots eliminate a few “show up on election day and guess” voters, that’s a good start.

I also think it’s a good thing when more people participate in the process. It means elected officials have to do more than placate a tiny base of voters that’s guaranteed to vote their way, and you have more trust in the election results.

Here’s one example of why it’s good to expand the voter base, particularly in smaller elections: Voters recently approved general obligation bonds and a property tax to provide Texico more than $2 million for Texico Municipal Schools. There were 262 ballots cast out of 1,036 ballots sent out, meaning voter turnout was 25.3 percent.

Texico’s previous tax election in 2013 saw 3.8 percent turnout, which would have been about 41 voters. Texico Municipal Schools has 55 entries in its online staff directory.

I’m not accusing anybody of being underhanded, but I don’t think you can argue it’s a good election process if employees of the place asking for taxpayer money can secure passage on their own. You have to make a case to voters, and some school bond elections have failed because that didn’t happen.

Here’s another benefit: When ballots are sent back as undeliverable, that’s documented justification to remove them from the voter rolls. It’s a voter’s responsibility to keep their registrations current, and this is a good way to do it.

Oregon’s been doing vote-by-mail for years, and its turnout is significantly above national averages. Other states are following suit.

Yes, it’s a little more expensive. But good democracy is worth investment.

Kevin Wilson is editor of The Eastern New Mexico News. Contact him at:

kwilson@thenews.email

 
 

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