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Committee endorses push to consolidate local elections

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Shannon Hudson walks into the polling location in the Fiesta Del Norte shopping center for a school election last year. (Kim Burgess/Journal)

SANTA FE — A proposal that calls for consolidating most of New Mexico’s nonpartisan elections into one day in November — rather than spread throughout the year — began moving through the state House on Thursday.

The city of Albuquerque, however, objected to the bill, arguing that it would force the city to move its own elections to March in even-numbered years because the law would conflict with parts of the City Charter.

Supporters carried the day nonetheless, and the bill won approval on a 6-1 vote in the House local government committee. It must clear one more committee before it can reach the full House for a vote.

Approval by the Senate and Gov. Susana Martinez would also be required.

The sponsors of House Bill 98 — Republican Reps. Paul Bandy and James Smith and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto — said the proposal would boost turnout for small local elections that few voters show up for. It makes sense to have one election in November, when people are already accustomed to heading to the polls, they said.

“Right now, we’ve got governments in New Mexico — not just school districts — raising our taxes in elections where fewer than 5 percent of people vote and sometimes 1 percent or fewer people vote,” Ivey-Soto said.

Municipalities would be allowed to opt out of the consolidated election, which would be on a Tuesday in November of odd years. Most cities in New Mexico now hold elections in March of even years.

Albuquerque, however, is a home-rule city governed by its own charter, and elections are in October of odd years.

The city cannot easily consolidate its election with the new proposed November date — because the City Charter requires voters to show photo identification before casting ballots in person. That provision is at odds with the less-stringent ID requirement used throughout most of the state.

Albuquerque’s option, then, would be to move its municipal election to March — the typical date most cities use now. But there are other problems, too, such as public financing deadlines for campaigns and a loss of local control over polling places, city officials said.

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