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Editorial: Merging elections saves money, boosts turnout

School board elections are supposed to be nonpartisan and are held on the first Tuesday of February in odd-numbered years. It’s state law, but some of that could — and should — change.

Abysmally low turnout in last week’s Albuquerque Public Schools board election — just 3.5 percent of registered voters — as well as a nasty partisan turn has some lawmakers proposing to ask voters to change the state Constitution and allow school board elections to be held with other nonpartisan elections.

House Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Rep James Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Rep. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuqerque, is a win-win-win proposal.

Combining elections would likely boost turnout, hold down costs for taxpayers and lessen the influence of well-financed and organized political groups and unions that have their own narrow agendas.

Take that APS election as an example.

Only 17,823 ballots were cast in an election involving hundreds of millions of dollars and board seats for the largest school district in the state.

The stand-alone election cost around $500,000, or about $28 a vote.

And mailers funded by political action group A+ Albuquerque went out attacking District 6 incumbent Paula Maes and supporting fellow incumbent David Robbins, who were pitted against each other thanks to redistricting. The candidates say they had no knowledge of the mailing campaign. The third candidate in the race, Don Duran, won.

Robbins says he was particularly unhappy because the mailers emphasized his party affiliation (Republican) in the nonpartisan election. A+ Albuquerque has ties to Republican operatives. Adam Feldman, a former executive director of the Republican Party, says it was formed specifically for this election to counter labor unions.

It is just as offensive that high-ranking Democrats make robo-calls for candidates of that stripe. Because candidates for local office like school boards and city councils should be allowed to focus on best serving their entire constituency rather than party ideology. The real effort here is to have more people paying attention to vital school and education issues — which voters are more likely to do if those issues are combined on a ballot with, say, a mayor’s race.

While the Municipal League, the New Mexico School Boards Association and others oppose the change — the status quo has its aforementioned interests in maintaining its own Election Day — the change would make school elections less costly, involve more of the electorate and help dilute the influence of special interests.

Lawmakers should see fit to send it to the voters.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.