Early voting starts in Santa Fe

Andrew Abhold, a custodian at the Santa Fe County Building, cleans up around voting machines after the county set them up Monday for the beginning of early voting on Tuesday. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Voters, this is not a drill.

An election is happening less than a month away.

Repeat: There’s an election exactly four weeks from today. In fact, in-person absentee voting at the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office, 102 Grant Ave., is now underway.

Voters in Santa Fe County and elsewhere who are accustomed to springtime elections will decide a slew of races under a new consolidated election schedule that moved biennial municipal elections from March to November.

“When I’ve been reaching out to voters … there were quite a few people that had either forgotten that our election had been changed to November or they didn’t know,” said District 1 Santa Fe City Councilor Renee Villarreal, who isunopposed for a second four-year term. “I think the change has thrown people off.”

The change, spurred by the passage of the 2018 Local Election Act, was partly intended to increase voter turnout by consolidating all local nonpartisan elections to odd years in November.

“Previously in New Mexico, there were multiple nonpartisan local elections held at different times of the year,” Mandy Vigil, elections director for the Secretary of State’s Office, wrote in a recent “My View” published in The New Mexican.

“This led to confusion among voters about when an election was happening in their community. It also resulted in extremely low-turnout elections where sometimes fewer than 5 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, though local governments were still responsible for the cost of those elections.”

But election officials and candidates running for office say many voters are unaware of the upcoming Nov. 5 election.

“During this whole process of the 2018 Local Election Act when I communicated with people, they felt it was the most logical approach for local elections. They saw that it would become more of a streamlined process and a regular election cycle rather than multiple fall elections throughout a county or the state,” Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said.

“But as far as people being accustomed to this process, not yet fully,” she said. “Because they’re used to [elections in February or March], now it’s going to have to really sink in.”

But Salazar predicts the change will bring predictability — and increase voter participation — in the future.

“Once they get accustomed to it, then it will be second nature,” she said. “But right now, it still needs to be grasped by voters in Santa Fe County and throughout the state.”

Tuesday is the last day to register to vote by mail or online to participate in the Nov. 5 election, but people have until Nov. 2 to register to vote in person at the County Clerk’s Office downtown. A photo ID is required for same-day voter registration.

Tuesday also is the first day the county’s Bureau of Elections can mail out absentee ballots, and it also marks the first day of in-person absentee voting at the County Clerk’s Office.

In Santa Fe, the ballot contains races for City Council, school board and the Santa Fe Community College board.

Only two of the four City Council races are competitive.Villarreal and District 3 incumbent Chris Rivera are running unopposed.

The race for the southeast-side council District 2 pits Alysia Lori Abbott, an archaeologist and former historic preservation planner for the city, against Michael J. Garcia, who is the state program director for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The race for the south-side District 4 drew three candidates, making it the only contest in the city with ranked-choice voting. The three candidates are Xavier Anderson, the budget and finance manager for the Los Alamos Fire Department; Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez, a stay-at-home mom who has a master’s degree in public health; and Greg Scargall, a fourth grade teacher.

Municipal Court Judge Virginia Vigil is running unopposed.

Two seats on the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education will be contested, while an incumbent runs unopposed.

In District 1 on the city’s east side, incumbent Steven Carrillo, who has been on the board since 2011, faces Carmen Gonzales, a longtime educator and a former vice president at Santa Fe Community College.

In District 2, Maureen Cashmon’s decision to step down after one term opened up a race between 39-year-old Sarah Boses, a Santa Fe High graduate and oncology nurse, and 72-year-old John Triolo, a retired educator in California who is on the board of the Masters Program, a state charter school. Rudy Garcia, who represents District 4 on the city’s south side and is also a Santa Fe County commissioner, will run unopposed.

In the Pojoaque Valley School District, incumbent Toby Velasquez, deputy director for New Mexico State Parks, will run unopposed in District 1. In District 2, Felix Benavidez, a social worker in the district who served on the school board in the 1990s, will face against incumbent Jeffrey Atencio, the current board vice president. In District 3, incumbent Fernando Quintana will face Adam Muller, a retired battalion chief with the Los Alamos County Fire Department who now works as a paramedic with Española Valley Emergency Medical Services.

At Santa Fe Community College, board members Martha Romero and Kathy Keith are not running for reelection. In Position 3, Ruth Howes, a retired physics professor, will face Jody Pugh, a supervisor with the Department of Energy at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In Position 5, David Dannenberg a software engineer and technology entrepreneur, will face Miguel Acosta, a co-director at local nonprofit Earth Care, and Pier Quintana, assistant director of Personal and Professional Development at St. John’s College.

Voters across Northern New Mexico will also consider various school board races as well as soil and water conservation district races and a number of bond issues, including a $12 million bond in Rio Arriba County for road repairs.

Staff writers Dillon Mullan and Danielle Prokop contributed to this report.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

Voter registration

What: Register to vote in the Nov. 5 election

When: Between Oct. 9 and Nov. 2

Where: In person at the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office, 102 Grant Ave.

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