SANTA FE, N.M. — Not only did Santa Fe’s population grow by about 13,200 on Jan. 1 when an annexation agreement between the city and county went into effect, it also means that more than 4,500 new people are eligible to vote in the March 4 municipal election.
With that many new votes up for grabs, people living in the annexed area, predominantly on the city’s south side, could easily determine the outcome.
“It’s a sleeping giant,” Angelo Jaramillo, one of three candidates running for city council in District 3, said of the district most impacted by annexation. “Several people I’ve talked to have used that phrase. There’s power in numbers and the vibe I’m getting from people is they are feeling the power.”
The city clerk’s office reported that, as of Wednesday, there are 4,228 new eligible voters in District 3, representing more than one-third of all voters who will pick between Jaramillo, Marie Campos and incumbent Carmichael Dominguez as their representative on the City Council.
Districts 1 and 4 were also affected by annexation, but just barely. The 176 new eligible voters in District 4 since annexation represent just 1.3 percent of all registered voters in that district, while the increase of 124 new voters in District 1 is less than 1 percent.
Annexation and other new voter registrations have increased the number of eligible voters in Santa Fe to 57,876. New voters, the vast majority from the annexed areas, represent about 8 percent of the total. In the mayoral race, that could make the difference.
There has been no independent polling published on the race at this point. The latest poll available was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Third Eye Strategies and was commissioned in late January by a PAC supporting Javier Gonzales, vice president of a national commercial real estate firm and former state Democratic Party chair. The poll showed Councilor Patti Bushee with a 4 percentage point lead over Gonzales, 28 percent to 24 percent, with a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. Bill Dimas was favored by 16 percent.
If the poll is accurate in finding that 32 percent of voters are still undecided, however, how many votes a candidate can get out of annexed territory could tip the election in their favor.
“We are definitely doing outreach to let those people know that they now have a voice (in the city election),” Bushee said. “More importantly, we’ve been out there trying to get a feel for concerns and issues.”
Asked if she felt people living in the annexed areas could swing the outcome of the election, Bushee said, “I’m not sure I’m that kind of political scientist, and there’s still a lot of undecided voters. It’s a big chunk of voters, for sure. We’re doing what we can to reach those voters and get them to use their voice by exercising their right to vote.”
Bushee and two District 3 city council candidates independently told the Journal that the city didn’t do enough outreach in the annexed areas to let residents know about the election. The city did send letters informing them of how annexation would affect them regarding property taxes, tying into the city’s water lines and services that would be provided to them, but nothing was said about the upcoming election.
“It would have been nice if there was some voter education,” Campos said. “What I’m having to do as a candidate in order to get their vote is educate them.”
“What I heard from a lot of people who have been annexed is the city didn’t do its job in properly educating them,” Jaramillo said. “Now, it’s already done, and it’s already happened.”
Demographic data on the annexed areas is scarce, but candidates agree that the demographic makeup is generally consistent with that of much of the southside – predominantly Hispanic, and mostly low-income and middle-class families.
“I don’t think there’s a big shift one way or another,” said Dominguez, the District 1 council incumbent. “There’s data that already exist that include the pockets that were annexed. When I look at it, the only thing it does is add 13,000 more residents.”
“I think it’s a reflection of what’s already there. The way it’s drawn up, it encompasses every demographic in Santa Fe,” she said.
Campos, who has canvassed the area extensively, broke it down further by saying the annexed areas include pockets of apartment buildings, which she surmised to be a more transient population, and portions along Agua Fría Road toward N.M. 599 with Hispanic landowners who have lived there for generations.
Jaramillo characterized it similarly.
“There are some semi-rural areas, but also pockets, like Cottonwood Village, that are high density areas,” he said. “In terms of demographics, it’s pretty mixed ethnically and economically. We still have that same dynamic, it’s just more expanded now.”
Mayoral candidate Gonzales said his campaign targeted the annexed area from the beginning.
“As part of our campaign, we’re taking the annex very seriously. We’re hoping for a lot of participation from the southside in particular,” he said.
Gonzales said his campaign utilized a database called Votebuilder and voter lists provided by the Democratic Party that he said are available to all candidates. Though it doesn’t include family economic data, it does break down ethnicity. What it shows is that in the annexed area approximately 59 percent are “likely Hispanic.”
According to the 2010 census, Santa Fe’s population was 48.7 percent Hispanic or Latino.
Gonzales said his campaign has targeted potential voters in the annexed areas and elsewhere through phone banking and weekend canvassing.
The campaign has looked at poverty tracts on the southside and the annexed area, and when he delivers his message he talks to them about the city services they’ll have access to and creating jobs, Gonzales said.
“When we talk about jobs, they are certainly included,” he said.
Dimas said he’s hoping the annexation will work in his favor.
“I’ve run in three previous elections in the county, so they know me” said Dimas, who won elections as a magistrate judge. “A lot of the new people who will be voting in this election have voted for me in the past.”
Bushee said her campaign produced a bilingual pamphlet that she makes sure she has with her when she canvasses the annexed areas to make sure her message gets across to Hispanic voters.
“I also speak Spanish, so I’ve had a lot of good conversations,” she said.
Several candidates mentioned that, historically, there’s a lower voter turnout on the southside as compared to other parts of the city.
For instance, in the 2012 City Council elections, only about 1,100 votes were cast in a three-candidate District 3 race. In the more affluent, more Anglo District 1 in north and east parts of town, roughly 3,300 votes were cast for two candidates – three times the turnout in the southside race.
If the same thing happens again on March 4, the power bestowed to voters in the annexed areas won’t have much of an impact on the election.
“A sleeping giant is great,” Jaramillo said, “but it will remain sleeping if you don’t wake it up and get it organized so we can make change.”