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Auditor: Elections are chronically under-budgeted by secretary of state

Tim Keller

Tim Keller

State Auditor Tim Keller, in a report released today, says the Secretary of State’s office has been chronically under-budgeting for elections over the past decade.

Keller says that has led to the need for $25 million in emergency loans, grants and special appropriations from the state to pay for elections.

“Repeatedly using emergency funding mechanisms for routine, regularly scheduled elections runs against commonsense budgeting principles,” Keller said in a statement.

Secretary of State Brad Winter, however, told the Journal the problem is not that the office has underestimated how much elections will cost, but that it has been under-funded.

For the upcoming budget year — which includes a presidential general election — he said the office requested $6.1 million to run elections and ended up getting just under $5 million in the budget approved by the Legislature.

Officials in the Secretary of State’s office said election costs vary, and it has been the state’s practice to provide enough funding for the least expensive elections and then make up the difference afterward, as needed.

Keller said in a letter to Winter that this is “a critical juncture” for the Secretary of State’s office to break the old pattern, because New Mexico’s budget problems will be worsened if it continues.

He encouraged Winter to implement “best practices” to accurately budget election costs.

Keller also said the Legislature has contributed to the situation by redirecting more than $10 million from the Public Elections Fund — which is supposed to be used to support publicly financed candidates — to pay for election expenses.