Campaigns for four candidates in two runoffs, one to determine our next mayor, Gregg Hull or Mike Williams, and the other to decide who will represent District 5 on the city council, Shelby Smith or Tom Buckner, will carry on into April.
We extend our appreciation to all Rio Ranchoans who participated in the election, candidates and voters alike, because we believe becoming a great community requires engaged citizens.
That said, there is once more a dark cloud hanging over our election results: voter turnout. Just 12 percent of the city’s 57,601 registered voters made it to the polls Tuesday, voted early or cast absentee ballots. That’s a mere 2 percent better than the showing in 2012 and equal to the turnout of the last mayoral election in 2010. The special election on the higher education tax in August attracted a turnout of 10.7 percent.
The city council is expected to decide Wednesday when to set the runoff election. It should not be scheduled for April 15 as the city staff has suggested. That’s tax-filing day and voters certainly don’t need another reason to stay home.
What underlies our community’s reluctance to vote is puzzling, and likely complex. But it’s a pattern that has to change.
This particular race was covered by local newspapers, bloggers and television stations. There were multiple candidate forums, including one sponsored by the Observer and Albuquerque Journal. Political signs popped up the day candidates declared their candidacies in January. Candidates and their supporters lined streets in front of locations on Tuesday, waving campaign materials at passing motorists. Yet, more than 50,000 eligible voters elected to stay home. That is worth repeating: Fifty Thousand Voters did not participate!
Plenty has been said about the particular political composition of the city council and where that will take the city in the future. Admittedly, a 50, 60 or 70 percent turnout might show the city as a whole leans in the same political direction. Meanwhile, this indisputable fact remains: A low turnout gives an outsized voice to a small handful of voters — who elect people to run our city government and make multi-million-dollar decisions with our tax money. A glance at Tuesday’s numbers, for instance, shows just over 3,000 people cast votes to pick half our city council.
It’s striking that a community like Corrales, albeit a fraction the size of Rio Rancho, had a 30 percent turnout for its municipal election on Tuesday. A city closer to our size, Santa Fe, saw about a 29 percent turnout. Even Albuquerque turned out 20 percent of its voters last fall Mayor Richard Berry was re-elected.
What can be done to increase voter turnout has been a long-running topic in our newsroom, with ideas ranging from expanding early voting hours to weekends and at more locations to less conventional ideas, such as offering chances for voters to win cash prizes if turnout reaches a certain threshold.
We invite — encourage — our readers to share your ideas. Please write letters, and let’s launch a robust community discussion about how to fix this long-standing problem of voter apathy and lack of civic engagement in the City of Vision.