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Candidates, election … but no voters

LAS CRUCES – What if there was an election and no one showed up to vote – not even the candidates themselves?

That’s precisely what happened in the recent Hagerman school board election.

Three candidates ran unopposed: None received a single vote, not even their own.

It was a lack of opposition and not a lack of interest in education that kept the town’s 1,034 eligible voters away from the polls, said Superintendent Ricky Williams, who supervises the three-school district of fewer than 500 students.

The fact that the candidates were unopposed – and that the election was held in Roswell 26 miles away – may have had something to do with it, he said. Polling stations were not open in the southeast New Mexico community, a decision made by Chaves County.

“We have a committed community that is high on education,” he said. “The community was very supportive of the candidates.”

None of the candidates for three open seats on the five-member school board was an incumbent, so each candidate needed at least one vote to be elected.

That leaves the Hagerman school board in a bind.

Cindy Fuller, Bureau of Elections chief for Chaves County, said she consulted with the county clerk and with Williams, and they sought legal advice.

The Hagerman school board likely will appoint the three candidates – Destry Moss, Lois Wilson Stephens and Heidi Gray – to the school board at the board’s next meeting on Feb. 23, she said.

Fuller said that with no contested positions, no write-in candidates and no questions or bonds on the ballot, state statute permits the clerk’s office to handle the election. There were voting convenience stations in Roswell, she said, but not Hagerman.

That turned out to be not convenient enough.

Candidate Moss, who works in Artesia, said he was surprised to come home to Hagerman to find the two usual polling stations closed on Election Day. And there wasn’t enough time left to get to Roswell.

Candidate Wilson Stephens said she didn’t see a reason for the county to pay for polling stations in Hagerman when the election was uncontested. For her part, she went to work Tuesday rather than to Roswell.

“We all want to be on the school board,” she said. “It’s all good. We’re all donating our time and our effort.”

Candidate Gray declined to comment.

The zero voter turnout almost makes Albuquerque look good – less than 2.6 percent of voters went to the polls this week to vote for Albuquerque Public Schools and Central New Mexico Community College board elections. Of 297,291 eligible voters, only 7,668 cast ballots.

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