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Officials: Voter frustration may be driving candidate involvement


Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin said she was not surprised by the large number of candidates who filed Aug. 27 to run for City of Las Cruces, Las Cruces Public Schools and Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District seats in the Nov. 5 election.

Lopez Askin, a Democrat, said she was “definitely pleased with the number of candidates that are motivated to participate in our local government. This also may mean that more demographics of our community are represented on our ballot, which can only assist with increasing voter participation.”

The November election (early voting begins Tuesday, Oct. 8 and continues Nov. 2) will be the first combined ballot for Las Cruces and other communities and election districts in Doña Ana County. For city races, it will also include ranked-choice voting for mayor, city council and presiding municipal judge for the first time ever.

Former Las Cruces state representative and unsuccessful 2018 county commission candidate John Zimmerman, a Republican, said he isn’t surprised by the number of candidates who filed, but he is “intrigued.”

“The fact that more people are becoming interested in what is going on both locally and nationally in politics provides evidence the electorate as a whole is fed up with politicians saying one thing to get your vote and do the opposite when they get elected,” said Zimmerman, who represented District 39 in the New Mexico House of Representatives 2015-16.

Longtime political activist, 2003 mayoral candidate and current member of the state Ethics Commission Frances Williams said she “was surprised at how many applied especially for local elections which usually have a low turnout of voters. Because there are so many candidates for president (which never happened before) individuals who are running saw this as a new era with regard to the number of candidates who could run. Voters are fed up with the shenanigans of elected officials, their disregard for the will of the people, and disregard (for) what they swore to when taking the oath of office, i.e., to be a servant of the people who listen,” said Williams, a Democrat who has lived in Las Cruces for 67 years.

Here are answers from Lopez Askin, Zimmerman and Williams to other questions about this November’s election.

  • Do you think the combined ballot generated more candidates?

Lopez Askin: “I would imagine that the buzz around our first consolidated election, combined with the ranked-choice voting (RCV) option, has generated more interest in the process. Additionally, with RCV, candidates may feel that the election is more accessible to them.”

Zimmerman: “In a word, no.

Williams: “I think there were more candidates because we have more knowledge now with regard to the issues facing the city and the candidates probably think they could fix the problems. People run because they think they can make a difference. We also have more retirees who can spend the time to be in office.”

  • Do you think the recent resignation of former Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Greg Ewing had an impact on the number of candidates filing for school board?

Lopez Askin: No comment.

Zimmerman: 1.  “Possibly. Looking back over the years, when there is a controversy when it comes to our children's education, and their futures, more people tend to become more vocal and energized to make a difference. That's a good thing.”

Williams: “More people are running for the school board, because our education system, 50th in the nation, does not seem to be getting better in spite of the money poured into education. The resignation of the (superintendent) was probably not the impetus for more people to run, but … the problems generated under his leadership probably was one of the causes for their applying for the school board elections.”  

  • Do you think there are specific issues at the city that inspired more people to run for mayor and city council?

Lopez Askin: “Regardless of why, I am pleased so many individuals are invested in our community, its future and its leadership.”

Zimmerman: Yes. There has been an increase by past city councils to pass memorials and opinions which have no bearing on the operation of the city or county. The feedback I constantly hear from voters is, ‘Why don't they stick to the (issues) at hand, instead of going off in left field on this or that which has no bearing on city or county business?’” 

Williams: “While the city has improved many of the facilities in town, businesspeople were angry because of the way the rehabilitation of our city streets interfered with the businesses impacted by the construction. Some people feel we need a full-time mayor and for the salary he gets we should have one. Some individuals go to city hall meetings and the mayor and some councilors read their phones rather than listening. Some people want some leadership from our elected officials with some new ideas.  With a more informed public who seems to know more about what is going on they are looking for a change.” 

  • What impact do you think ranked-choice voting will have in the mayor’s race? Does it favor the incumbent or give the edge to someone else?

Lopez Askin: “RCV will hopefully motivate candidates to do more outreach and focus more on issues that are important to them. A voter may not be able to commit a candidate a first-ranking vote but could possibly consider a candidate for a second-ranking, which may encourage more discourse and discourage negativity.

Zimmerman: “I don't have a crystal ball to answer that with any amount of certainty. I personally believe in term limits, as when one person dominates especially in local elections, fresh ideas never surface and those elected often forget there is more than one way to solve a problem or issue. With RCV in place, many may relish the idea of getting elected whereas they wouldn't have a chance in a two-party vote.”

Williams: “My hope is that there will be a good turnout because Las Cruces continues to grow and we need good, sound leadership who can think out of the box.”  

  • Do you think ranked-choice voting will increase voter awareness and turnout? Will 10 candidates for mayor discourage people from learning more about the candidates?

Lopez Askin: “Between this being the first consolidated election in Doña Ana County as well as it being the first time the City of Las Cruces has an RCV ballot, I am hopeful voter turnout will be greater. In Santa Fe, voter turnout did increase with RCV by approximately 12 percent and I hope Las Cruces will exceed that increase.”

Zimmerman: “It remains to be determined if voter turnout will increase substantially. The election for our sheriff brought out many candidates. In the end, there was so much apathy and bitterness that resulted, that no one party or group was really satisfied with the results. The outcome may not have been different, but I believe voter turnout was not as high as it has (been) in the past.”

Williams: “The impact of the new voting system is not understood by more people and they are confused. Some may keep away from the voting booth because (of) their frustration of not understanding the system and not understanding why this change was made.  We need more publicity, more people … to explain the voting system and encourage voters to come down to the voting center with someone explaining the system before the election. The city should have an all-out drive to educate the voters. With so many candidates in the races it is impossible to predict who will win.” 

  • Any other thoughts?

Lopez Askin: “Your Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office is offering many different community presentations for voters to learn more about RCV, the consolidated election, and answer any questions. Feel free to call our office or connect with us via social media, where we list all our upcoming events.  Additionally, you can go to www.lascrucesrankedchoice.com for more information on RCV. To get your current voter status go to www.nmvote.org. For local information such as polling locations and important elections dates, go to www.dacelections.com.”

Zimmerman: “The verbal attacks upon individual candidates in our country have got to stop. I firmly believe anyone who puts their name out there to run for any political office, at least in the beginning, honestly is trying to make a better place for all concerned. I would ask all voters to take the time to get to know each and every candidate regardless of their political affiliation before deciding who they will or won't vote for. Unfortunately, in our world today many really good candidates never become candidates for political office due to how they and their families are persecuted. It is imperative that we remain respectful of the opinions of others. In the end we are all Americans and we all come from different backgrounds. We are the largest melting pot of cultures in the world and also the envy of the world today.”

Williams: “Whoever gets elected needs strong leadership skills. This trait has been absent for some time with the people we select to lead us. We need elected officials who can make the changes needed in the more important part of our lives, i.e., safe environments, improved facilities, more affordable housing, better communication between the city and the county, ensuring that employees are being treated fairly and acknowledged for their contributions in increasing the livability environment of city services to the public,  making sure that when the city undertakes a project there is communication between the city and the individuals and businesses affected, listening to the concerns of constituents  and being a true servant of the people.”

Mike Cook may be contacted at mike@lascrucesbulletin.com.


Election 2019


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