The boards of the Albuquerque Public Schools and Central New Mexico Community College – in response to heavy criticism – this week will discuss adding two polling stations for early voting for the coming bond and mill levy election.
If all goes as planned, the sites – one in Northwest Albuquerque and one in Rio Rancho – could be up and running by Saturday, according to County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
The APS and CNM boards came under fire last week when it was revealed that they had signed off on five early voting sites, but that none was in Northwest Albuquerque, where more than 55,000 voters live.
Meanwhile, two of the sites are within a mile of each other in Southeast Albuquerque.
One voter described the two districts’ actions as “voter suppression.”
Over the weekend, CNM came under additional criticism from Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull for not having an early voting station in that city, “despite the fact that Rio Rancho voters are in the CNM taxing district and eligible to vote on the CNM bond question,” he said. There are more than 57,000 eligible voters in Rio Rancho.
One of those voters, Stephen Levine, said Monday that he thinks “CNM tried to slip this thing through with the intention of getting only supporters to vote for it – like they were trying to slant participation.”
To fill in those voting gaps, Albuquerque city councilors and Mayor Richard Berry have offered the Don Newton Community Center near Montaño and Taylor Ranch Road as an early voting site for residents in Northwest Albuquerque. Meanwhile, officials at CNM have requested that the AMREP Southwest building on N.M. 528 near Northern, already approved as a voting site for the Feb. 2 bond election, be made available for early voters in Rio Rancho.
The question of the additional voting sites has been added to the agenda for the regularly scheduled APS board meeting on Wednesday. Likewise, a notice was posted Monday informing the public of a special meeting of the CNM board for Thursday.
APS board President Don Duran said Monday that rules regulating open meetings require that advance notice appear in a draft agenda posted 72 hours before the meeting and in a final agenda posted 36 hours before the meeting.
Duran and CNM President Kathie Winograd on Friday apologized for the early voting oversight and said their respective staffs made the decision on where the sites would be located. The CNM and UNM boards signed off on those recommendations.
“Honestly, in hindsight, we should have taken a closer look at them,” Duran said at the time.
Duran said he was hopeful that the APS and CNM boards would quickly approve the additional sites so that the County Clerk’s Office could inspect, certify and get them ready for voting.
Toulouse Oliver said Monday that her office checks to make sure voting sites are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that they have phone and Internet service. The Rio Rancho early voting site should not be a problem because it is already approved as a voting site for the bond election.
Toulouse Oliver said her office tries to equip each early voting site with at least two voting machines, “but it’s not that simple.”
The machines will have to be recertified, the election software will have to be reprogrammed, additional ballot-on-demand systems will have to be installed, and additional people will have to be hired and trained as poll workers. A Metro Court judge also will have to sign an order allowing the new early voting sites “because we are outside of the statutory window to change polling locations,” she said.
If all goes smoothly, the two new sites “could be up and running by Saturday, which would provide a full week for early voters,” she said.
It was not clear how much more money APS and CNM will have to pony up for the additional early voting sites, though there will be a cost, Toulouse Oliver said. Duran previously estimated that the election would run about $400,000, which would be split between APS and CNM.
When APS and CNM officials were first asked last week about the failure to have a site in each quadrant, APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said the decisions were made for economic reasons. He also said the decision on site selection was made jointly by representatives from APS, CNM and the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office.
Toulouse Oliver quickly disputed that, saying she told APS and CNM representatives there should be early voting sites in each quadrant of the city. She also suggested that they delay the February election because her office was working at capacity to prepare for the June primary and the November general election.
As an alternative, she also pointed out to them that the bond/mill levy election could be done via a mail-in ballot, as provided by statute when there is no candidate on the ballot.
Voters are being asked to approve bond and mill levy questions totaling $575 million for APS and $84 million for CNM.