A leisurely election day for city workers - Albuquerque Journal

A leisurely election day for city workers

Political signs help advertise the early voting site at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds on Rodeo Road, where voters can cast ballots for weeks before election days. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Here are a couple of things to know about the 6-2 vote by the Santa Fe City Council and mayor to grant city employees another two hours off, on top of two hours previously set by state law, to vote on general election day in November 2020:

• The true cost to the public is not just $30,400, as a city news release said last week.

Using city estimates, two hours of pay for the 1,400-person municipal workforce amounts to $52,800, value lost to taxpayers because no work will be delivered in this case. The $30,400 figure cited in the city news release is just the estimate for overtime that will be required to cover basic services for the additional two hours that City Hall be closed on election day.

So, the total cost of the two hours off is really $83,200, as councilors noted before the additional two hours were approved on Wednesday night. With the other two holiday hours already granted counted in, the half-day off for voting costs something well north of $100,000.

• Expanding time off to vote on election day was described as an experiment, not a guaranteed long-term entitlement, to see if the change to a half day off increases voter turnout among city employees. The city staff promised an analysis on this issue, prepared with the help of the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

So, make note of this: Some time after the 2020 election, City Hall is supposed to kick out a study showing how many city employees voted in 2020 versus how many among a different set of city workers voted in 2016, the last general election with the presidential race on the ballot, which would be the only fair comparison.

This seems doable, but with some work involved. It apparently would require the city to provide lists to Secretary of State’s Office of all city workers’ names, along with crucial identifiers, like dates of birth, which could then be checked against records of who voted in the election, not just in Santa Fe, but in surrounding communities where city employees live.

The SOS Office already does this kind of thing, for a fee, for political groups, pollsters, academics or government entities who want to track voter trends or, for example, to find and target frequent voters.

One would think that public employees would be, relatively speaking, an engaged group heavily populated with regular voters. It will be interesting to learn if city workers are more likely to vote than the public at large.

But the two hours off previously granted on election day, polls being open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., voting centers that everyone can use spread around town and countless opportunities to cast early votes in the weeks leading up to election day already seems to give city workers plenty of chances to engage in democracy, if they are so inclined.

Even those who live out of town shouldn’t have too much trouble reaching a voting center without additional time off. A Santa Fe worker already has four hours to vote between 3 p.m. (with two hours off before the standard 5 p.m. close of business) and 7 p.m. (when polls in New Mexico close).

We understand that other communities like Rio Rancho (where a significant percentage of Santa Fe police officers, and probably other city workers, live and pay taxes) have experienced long waits at the polls. But should Santa Fe taxpayers have to foot the bill to cover for the problems of other jurisdictions?

We also understand that Santa Fe leaders want to strike a blow against national trends toward voter suppression, and that’s good. While people in other parts of the world are fighting for the right to vote, there are those in this country who appear to be set on trying to keep Americans away from the polls.

But most symbolic moves aren’t costly. This one is.

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