Two Democrats are vying to be the next Bernalillo County clerk, replacing Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who was appointed by the County Commission to fill an unexpired term in 2007 and was subsequently elected to four-year terms in 2008 and 2012.
Both candidates, Roman Montoya and Linda Stover, cite current and previous work experience that they said makes them ideally suited for the job of county clerk.
The winner of that contest during the June 7 primary will face off against the sole Republican candidate, Maryellen Ortega-Saenz, in the Nov. 8 general election.
The clerk serves as the chief elections officer of the county, overseeing countywide elections and providing assistance for municipal elections within the county. The clerk is also responsible for overseeing the recording, filing or issuing of official records in the county, including marriage licenses and property maps and plats.
Montoya, 45, is currently the deputy clerk under Toulouse Oliver. Before that, he was the Rio Rancho city clerk from 2004 to 2012 and the chief deputy city clerk for the city of Albuquerque from 2000 to 2004. He is also an election committee member with the New Mexico Municipal League.
If elected, “there will be no transition time needed,” he said. “I will hit the ground running on day one.”
Montoya’s goal as county clerk will be “to remove all barriers when it comes to voting,” he said. “We must have fair and open and honest elections. I’m a progressive Democrat, and protecting the right to vote and fighting voter suppression is fundamental to why I’m in this race. I’m also the only candidate running who has election experience.”
A proponent of universal voter registration, Montoya said that he will support expanding election access through additional voter convenience centers, adding Chinese and Vietnamese to the languages already available on sample ballots. He would also make vote tabulating machines more user-friendly and interactive for people who speak languages other than English, as well as for people with disabilities.
Another of Montoya’s goals, he said, is to increase voter education efforts throughout the county and get voters to understand the “day-to-day interactions with local government,” which helps them appreciate the importance of having their voice heard, helps them understand the issues and ultimately leads to higher voter turnout.
Stover, 68, says the job of county clerk is the only political office that ever interested her.
“I’ve always been interested in voting and peoples’ rights to vote, in unencumbered elections and getting people’s voices heard,” she said.
Stover cites her more than 30 years of managerial experience as a director of the New Mexico Rural Rehabilitation Corp., a financial and lending program designed to help the state’s rural poor, including financially troubled farmers and ranchers, and which has been run for more than 40 years by three generations of her family.
Stover said she still works part-time for the corporation, doing interviews for student loans.
The New Mexico Rural Rehabilitation Corp. is directly overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she said, “so I understand government bureaucracy because I’ve worked with it my whole life.” Her experience working with the federal government has also helped to hone her management skills, giving her a competitive edge because “the county clerk’s office is largely a managerial position,” she said.
While Montoya has latched on to the voter convenience centers as source of pride and accomplishment, Stover said that in “some ways they are barriers to voting because they are not conveniently located, and people are forced to go out of their normal and familiar areas to vote.”
Consequently, she said, voter turnout in the county during the last election was down compared with the previous election cycle.
Stover said she doesn’t dispute that the voter convenience centers save money over traditional polling places, which have been reduced in number, but in order for the convenience centers to truly be convenient, she said, “there needs to be more of them, particularly in higher density areas,” something she would push for if elected.
She also wants to see free bus passes made available on Election Day “to anyone who requests one to get to and from” a voting site.
Like Montoya, Stover wants to ratchet up emphasis on voter education.
“I will put together a program for the schools, service clubs, anybody who will have me, and I will go in and talk about the value of one vote, she said.
“We need to remember what a gift voting is and the excitement of casting that vote. We have to get people talking about the issues so they become informed voters. When people are familiar with the issues, they feel vested and they want to vote.”