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Editorial: SOS should not have to beg for election funding

It’s no surprise to New Mexico’s secretaries of state – current and former – that the money they receive from the Legislature to conduct elections is chronically short of what’s needed. But state Auditor Tim Keller has quantified the shortages and says they create “a substantial financial burden” to the Legislature and the state Board of Finance.

Secretary of State Brad Winter, a Republican appointed to the post in December by Gov. Susana Martinez, says he’s aware of the problem but says the solution lies with the Legislature and a revamping of a system that forces the secretary to make a budget request before counties know how many polling places, voting centers and machines they will need for upcoming elections.

This piecemeal funding of elections – the bedrock of a representative government – is an embarrassment to New Mexicans. Since the 2008 budget year, the Secretary of State’s office has needed $24.8 million – from 29 loans, grants or appropriations – to help fund elections, according to Keller.

But Winter points out that his office requested $6.1 million for the budget year that begins July 1 to run elections, including November’s presidential election. And the Legislature approved just under $5 million, leaving a shortfall of about $1.1 million. That gap will force Winter to find cuts within his office or go scrounging for the money elsewhere.

The Legislature’s hesitance to fully fund elections for the Secretary of State’s office might be understandable, if regrettable, considering the checkered experiences with some past secretaries of state. Scandals in the office have done nothing to endear it to legislators, who hold the purse strings.

Winter, who kept his vow to forgo running for the office he currently fills, is in a position to lobby for the needed reforms that can help ensure well-run elections worthy of voters’ trust.

In the meantime, candidates for the office can explain what they would do to address the problems and, if elected, do their level best to rebuild voters’ and legislators’ confidence in their office.

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.