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Editorial: Turnout why NM should move its school elections

In Tuesday’s election for three seats on the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, 6,567 people voted out of an eligible 174,969. That’s 3.7 percent. Hardly a model of representative democracy.

The fact that most voters only had one race on the ballot undoubtedly played a factor (a Central New Mexico Community College board seat was also up for grabs for some voters).

First, voter turnout even in presidential elections is bad, and even worse when you consider how many people who could register don’t even bother. It’s understandable that it’s hard for many folks to work up enthusiasm three months after the general election to go out and vote again for one school board seat, despite the convenience of early and absentee voting.

It would be even worse if many voting places weren’t located in schools, helping boost turnout among employees of the system.

And sometimes, somebody throws a school election and nobody comes. Case in point: Hagerman, where not even the candidates voted in the recent contest for three school board seats.

Voter fatigue and apathy aside, this level of turnout is unacceptable.

At APS, the board is entrusted with overseeing policy for more than 90,000 students, 11,500 employees and 136 schools and an annual budget of $1.3 billion.

And there is a way to make it better.

In the last general election, voters were asked to approve a constitutional amendment changing when school board elections can be held, effectively allowing them to be combined with nonpartisan elections. The problem has its roots in history and discrimination. The constitution was written in 1910, before women had the right to vote in general but were allowed to vote in school elections, so those were separated from all others.

And though last fall nearly 58 percent of 440,000 voters approved aligning school and nonpartisan elections – which would have dramatically increased participation in board elections – the reform failed because revising that section of the constitution takes three-fourths’ approval, not a simple majority.

Legislators should let voters take another crack at it.

Because just 1.3 percent of APS District 1 voters, 4.6 percent of APS District 2 voters and 4.4 percent of APS District 4 voters cast ballots Tuesday – and that’s a best-case scenario. Nobody at all voted in Hagerman.

And that does not serve the candidates or the students, teachers, administrators or taxpayers who depend on our public schools.

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.