Conducting a smooth county-wide election is no small task. For a glimpse of how complicated an election can be just look at the many slightly different ballots the county clerk for each county must print for each election.
Those slight differences are the result of district boundaries or precinct lines. In the case of the Nov. 5 Rio Arriba County Sunday liquor question, it comes down to knowing a county question can’t be decided by voters inside an incorporated city or village.
In Taos County’s case it was a matter of getting a bond question on the ballot for a southern sliver of that county.
Most counties in New Mexico elect their county clerks by popularity or political party clout. There are no qualifications required to run an election, record records or lead/manage an office. People with no experience, skills nor education are elected every four years to perform critical duties, which when not carried out properly, create astounding consequences.
You’ve got to have some serious sympathy for Northern New Mexico College President Rick Bailey. His actions to first establish Northern’s El Rito campus as a community college (through legislative change) and then garner the support and votes to get a question on three counties’ ballots were gargantuan.
He lobbied many politicians during last winter’s legislative session, worked very long hours over the spring and summer presenting to school boards, logged serious miles, fielded ignorant questions from school boards and overcame uninformed objections by politicians incapable of understanding Bailey’s short and long game to rejuvenate the campus.
All that planning and execution came to a screeching halt late election night when it was discovered the Northern bond question was not put on the Taos County ballot for Mesa Vista School District voters to decide. The Northern District Board is composed of two representatives from each school district, including Mesa Vista. Since voters weren’t given the chance to agree to be taxed, the Board can’t be formed.
For a misstep by Taos County Clerk Anna Martinez or someone in the Secretary of State’s office to undo all of Bailey’s hard work is unthinkable. At this writing players are still busy pointing fingers at each other.
As you’d expect, Bailey skipped the finger-pointing and is busy trying to get the issue resolved through courts, another ballot or a reshaping of the Board. Have no doubt he’ll get it done. But he’s at the mercy of a bureaucratic clock that must run through the vote canvassing and then perhaps a process of publishing legals, calling meetings and holding another vote just for Mesa Vista. A District Court judge could simplify the process but that’s not guaranteed.
Bailey did his part with precision and aplomb. Voters in Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties overwhelmingly approved the Northern bond. They put a lot of faith in Bailey to create a training ground for locals to qualify for good jobs.
Unfortunately the faith we put in the voting system and the officials that operate it was misplaced.