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Editorial: Early voting sites a breach of trust with the voters

Unless the intent was to discourage voting by many of those who don’t have direct economic interest in the Feb. 2 bond and mill levy election, Albuquerque Public Schools and Central New Mexico Community College blew it when plotting out early voting sites.

Most egregious: There is no reasonable excuse for leaving out the entire northwest quadrant of the city. Especially when two of the five early voting sites that do exist were placed just over a half-mile apart. Especially when one site is in a difficult-to-find industrial area – where, coincidentally, APS has its maintenance and operations yard. In fact, it seems all the voting sites are strategically placed in centers with concentrations of APS or CNM employees.

While APS claims the election sites were set up in consultation with the office of Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, she says her office objected to several aspects of this election and recommended a mail-in ballot – which, coincidentally, would likely lead to a much bigger turnout for the same or a little more cost.

A CNM mail-in election several years back increased voter turnout from a typical 3 percent to moer than 20 percent, she says. She also says she recommended placing early voting sites in all quadrants of the city at familiar places where previous elections have been held.

But, she says, her office is limited to giving advice.

Apparently it was advice APS and CNM chose to ignore for reasons that at best seem questionable.

It’s not hard to conclude that a good turnout of voters who have to go near the early voting centers anyway just to report to work for the entities that will benefit from passage was a factor here. If the issues pass, it means $575 million for APS and $84 million for CNM.

Paradise Hills resident David Duganne, for one, is not amused: “The current early voting site layout can only be viewed as voter suppression.” He notes there are 55,000 eligible voters in his school board district and it’s 15 miles from his house to the nearest early voting site.

CNM President Kathie Winograd says she wasn’t in on the decision about the sites, which she left up to her staff. She said leaving out a northwest location was an “oversight” that won’t happen again.

APS spokesman Rigo Chavez offers the pathetic response that cost was a driving factor because the district has to pay the Clerk’s Office to staff the sites and no rent had to be paid for space at APS work centers, a remote charter school and two CNM sites.

This is the same APS that had plenty of cash for remodeling executive offices. A report by the district says that tab was $850,000. Or for buying its former chief financial officer a muscle car and creating a new “financial architect” job so the CFO could keep his $170,000 salary in response to personnel troubles.

Or for paying off the last two former superintendents to go away – $350,000 to Winston Brooks and $80,000 to Luis Valentino. Or for settling a First Amendment lawsuit to the tune of $863,000. Or for settling a pass-the-bad-teacher lawsuit for $750,000.

No wonder there’s no money left to run an election in which the district is – guess what? – asking for more money. This smacks of chicanery and is inexcusable.

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.