Are you ready for some voting?

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By Merilee Dannemann

            Early Voting begins in New Mexico on Oct. 16. Are you ready?

            Perhaps you have reached a firm decision on your choices for governor and your district’s representative to Congress. Good. How about the rest of the ballot? 

            New Mexico has long ballots in general elections. Usually our attention is so dominated by the top of the ticket that we pay little or no attention to lower-level races.  They all affect our lives.

            Statewide, this year, we have contests for Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Auditor, Land Commissioner, State Treasurer, and three judges of the Court of Appeals. Two sitting Supreme Court justices and two Court of Appeals judges are running unopposed in “retention” elections.

            Three of the five positions on the Public Regulation Commission are up for election this year: Districts 2, 4 and 5. The PRC has been something of a disappointment since it was created by constitutional amendment to replace the deeply dysfunctional State Corporation Commission and the appointed Public Utilities Commission. This commission decides the future of your telephone, gas and electric service, the price and adequacy of your insurance and other issues that affect your daily life. Have you studied those candidates?

            The Public Education Commission (PEC) is even newer. This commission replaced the State Board of Education under the restructuring plan that gave the governor power to appoint a secretary of education.

            The commission’s own Web site says, “The role of the Commission is advisory to the Secretary of Education,” suggesting that it has no real power. Nevertheless, there are 10 PEC districts, and half of them are up for election this year. If your district is a contested one, you might want to find a candidate who has decided to run for this obscure post and ask him or her why.

            There are local races: county sheriffs, assessors, treasurers, clerks; the entire state House of Representatives; local district judges and magistrates. Every candidate for every office is a member of your community who is seeking your support for a position of public trust, and probably working pretty hard to get a few minutes of your attention.

            And there are the inevitable bond issues and a few doozies of proposed amendments to our impossibly convoluted state Constitution. Particularly intriguing is Amendment No. 5, which says: “A joint resolution proposing an amendment to Article 4, Section 28 of the Constitution of New Mexico to allow the appointment of certain former members of the legislature to civil offices in the state in a limited situation.”  Wouldn’t you like to know what that’s about before you vote on it?

            Some information is on the Secretary of State Web site, www.sos.state.nm.us.  You can find a sample ballot by clicking on “elections,” then scrolling down to the sample ballot section and selecting your district. The New Mexico League of Women Voters has provided some analysis of the issues at www.lvwnm.org.  Your county clerk may have more local details.

            Early voting may make it more convenient for you to vote, but more difficult for you to be informed about whom and what you are voting for.  If you plan to vote early, please do the work before you enter that voting booth.

            I have known many fine people who chose to run for the less prominent public offices at the low end of the ballot, and some who chose not to -- partly because they were discouraged by the voters’ lack of interest. The time you take and the questions you ask will not only help determine this year’s election outcome, it may also contribute to the quality of the candidates next time around.