By John Larson
An initiative to change the state law concerning voting precincts has been put forth by a group of New Mexico county clerks, and the idea is to provide voters with one central location where to cast their votes.
Although Socorro County Clerk Rebecca Vega isn’t part of the group, she still says the proposal has merit.
“It would essentially do away with the multiple polling places, for instance, in the city of Socorro, which would be affected most,” said Vega, adding that the proposed plan would save the county a considerable amount of money.
She said that outlying polling places in the county would probably be unaffected by any changes brought forth by the group of county clerks. “But in Magdalena,” she said, “instead of two voting places there would only be one.”
The group is headed by Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who said a draft of the proposed bill will be sent to the state legislature, which convenes for a 60-day session on Jan. 18.
“The way we are envisioning the legislation is that it would be optional for each county,” said Oliver. “All the voting precincts would be combined into ‘X’ number of centralized locations. Precinct boundaries would still exist, but only for addressing purposes and vote counting.”
She added that larger cities would have several centralized voting centers, but in smaller municipalities like Socorro “only one would probably be needed. This would solve some problems voters may experience on voting day.”
The proposal has at least one ally in the state legislature. State Rep. Don Tripp (R-Socorro) said in a telephone interview that he hasn’t heard any talk about the initiative in the Roundhouse, but feels the proposal has merit.
“It sounds like a very good idea,” he said. “It would make it easier for clerks to run elections, and, of course, save the taxpayers money. It would also end disruptions at schools where people have been voting. It just makes more sense. More people are getting used to voting early and this would just continue that through Election Day.”
Vega agrees, citing confusion with residents who move from one part of town, or one part of the county, to another.
“With centralized polling places, as long as someone is a registered voter in the county, they could vote at any of the voting locations in the county,” she said. “It would, in effect, be like early voting is now.” Early voting allows anyone in the county to vote at the Socorro County Clerk’s office prior to Election Day.
Also included in the proposal is the introduction of an auto-vote system, which would print out a ballot specific to one’s precinct.
“This would save the county money by reducing the costs of Election Day,” said Vega, “like reducing the number polling place workers and saving on the cost of pre-printed ballots for each of the 26 current voting places. We would print out only what is needed.”
The pre-printed ballots cost the counties about $1 each.