Santa Fe city employees will have virtually no excuse for not voting in the November general election if the mayor and City Council approve a plan to give the estimated 1,400 municipal workers a half-day off to cast ballots.

“I believe the intention is to close half-day,” Assistant Human Resources Director Ashley Barela said during a recent meeting of the city Finance Committee, which unanimously endorsed the idea as part of the city’s 2020 holiday calendar.

However, councilors on the committee said they want to know how much the proposal would cost taxpayers.

In the past, city employees have received up to two hours of paid leave to vote on Election Day, which the city’s Human Resources Department says might not be enough for them to participate in the democratic process.

“This will allow employees time to get to the polls to cast their votes and will minimize the challenges of scheduling conflicts during regular work shifts,” Bernadette Salazar, the city’s human resources director, wrote in a memo to Mayor Alan Webber and the City Council.

“According to information published on electionday.org, in the last mid-term election, only 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots, which was down 41 percent in 2010 and was the lowest turnout rate in 70 years,” Salazar wrote. “Additionally, [the website] stated that the most common reason that nonvoters gave [for not voting] was that they simply did not have time to vote due to work or school conflicts.”

Giving employees more time “to exercise their rights to vote will foster the purpose of civic engagement and support the movement to increase voter turnout,” Salazar added.

Election officials in recent years have sought to improve turnout by setting up voter convenience centers around the community to accommodate the growing number of voters who cast early or absentee ballots rather than wait until the date of an election.

Santa Fe County gives employees up to two hours to vote on Election Day and doesn’t have any plans to change that, county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said.

In last month’s local election, Hart said 90 county employees took advantage of the perk.

“The total [administrative] leave voting time that we clocked was 135 hours from these 90 employees — most of them look like they took about an hour to do it — and the value of those 135 hours” was about $2,857, she said.

The state government gives its employees two hours of administrative leave to vote on Election Day.

María Pérez, former director of the election reform group FairVote New Mexico, said she was “very pleased” to hear the city is considering giving employees four hours off to vote.

“I am of the opinion that a voting day should be a national holiday," she said, "and if the city of Santa Fe is considering giving city workers a half-day to get to the polls, I think that’s wonderful.”

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would shift federal elections to weekends as a way to increase voter participation. Although the U.S. since 1845 has held federal elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years, advocates of holding elections on the first weekend of November note that Tuesday was selected because it was the most convenient day for voting in 19th-century America. Most eligible voters were farmers, and it could take a full day to travel by horse and buggy to a visit polling site. Tuesday was preferred because it would not require travel on the Sunday Sabbath for Christians or interfere with “market day” on Wednesday.

Though city councilors on the Finance Committee endorsed the half-day-off proposal, they requested a fiscal impact report specifying projected costs of closing for that much of a work day.

“We will work with [Human Resources] to ensure that is included in your packet going forward,” said Mary McCoy, the city’s finance director.

Barela told the committee her office would do “additional research.”

“For those that do not have the opportunity to participate because the city services have to remain open … there were would an overtime cost that would be associated with that,” she said.

City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, who chairs the Finance Committee, said he needs to know the financial impact of the proposal.

“I don’t necessarily object to the idea, especially for a general election,” he said. “In case of a presidential election, it might take more than two hours to stand in line and vote.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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(13) comments

Sarah Guzman

I am in favor of anything that will help increase the accessibility to the polls. I also think it’s important to mention that this is being proposed as an added benefit in the hiring packages of city employees. I think the 4 hours of paid time off being proposed to go exercise your right to vote is an overdue benefit that I support. Voting should be a priority for everyone, and every public worker should have easier access to it!

David Gunter

Can we compare voting rosters to employee records to doc a half-day's pay for any city employee who took the time off but didn't actually vote?

Chris Mechels

So, the "normal" citizen, who Does Not get paid time off to vote, is going to pay these slugs for 1/2 day for their precious vote. This pegs the Stupidity meter. Take away their current 2 hours, let them "deal with it" like the rest of us. What idiocy.

Kushka Five Three

Agreed. This is ridiculous. And an abuse of public funds. They can go vote during their lunch hour or before or after work like everyone else. If they pass this garbage they should all lose their jobs...

Nicoletta Munroe

The policy of allowing state and county employees to be compensated for their time when voting on Election Day violates the state statute concerning bribery, NMSA 1978, 30-24-1, Bribery of a public officer or public employee.

Khal Spencer

Umm...so what happened to early voting as an option? Two hours is plenty for LANL , the state and the county. Are city workers unduly challenged to get out and vote? Voting used to be something people cared so much about they would drag themselves to the polls. Nowdays we have to beg not because it is hard to vote but because no one thinks it matters.

My guess is if we had a full holiday on Election Day, participation might be even lower. Heck, with a full day off, I'm going fishing.

Nicoletta Munroe

I see the policy of paying City and County workers during the time that they vote on Election Day as a bribe. It is a violation of the state Gift Act. A skilled attorney may find a federal statute that the policy violates.

Marie Morrison

Vote, then go eat lunch, do errands, visit grandma....what a fun 1/2 day off!

Stefanie Beninato

What a boondoggle! We have absentee and early voting including Saturdays so if city workers really want to vote they have plenty of opportunity to do so. Is the city going to make sure those given a half day actually vote on that day? I doubt it

And whose bright idea was it to disrupt fitness classes even more by suspending fitness classes from 16 Dec until 6 Jan? Just because SFPS are so stupid as to take a 3 week holiday why is the city following suit? Doesn't Fast Money Webber and others realize that those fitness instructors only get paid when they teach? Just in time for Christmas and Chanukah the city deprives these workers of pay--great!

Mark Ortiz

My first thought when I read this, was, I find it sad that so many U.S. citizens aren’t engaged and that civics classes are no longer part of our school’s curriculum. My second though was Weber has an ulterior motive. Could it be, knowing that the majority of voters are lazy and ill-informed, he’s playing to the cheap seats? Will these voters help keep him in office for multiple terms as thanks? You know, now that he’s a man of the City worker. Skeptical? Sure. A stretch? Sure. Unintended consequence? Possibly.

7:00 am to 7:00 PM isn’t enough time? This last election the County had 30 Voting Convenience Centers. The City can’t come up with where the highest concentration of city workers are and provide more locations, machines and poll workers? Off the top of my head, City Hall, Siler Road, Siringo road, and Entrada. Oh wait, half the Police force are citizens of Rio Rancho. Oh well, what the heck, put one near the police station anyway.

Seriously though, if the City would require that at least 80% of city employees who are city residence (cuz we know it ain’t just the cops commuting into this rapidly gentrifying town o’mine) vote, or give them 3 years to get the number up that high, then repeal the half day. It is easier to give something than take it away, so imho, I vote for more locations, machines, and poll workers.

Andrew Gaspar

New Mexico has very generous absentee voting rules. There's no need for this.

Randy Kincaid

It would probably be cheaper for the City to pay (reimburse the county clerk) for an additional poll worker to come to city hall for the day.

Arnold Mayberg

Just another way to waste taxpayers money. How many employers in the private sector offer this benefit? Explain to me why city employees are special. Maybe the mayor can reach into his own pocket and fund this generous benefit.

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