Engaging voters, engaging their minds

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By Roger Snodgrass

According to a survey prepared for Los Alamos County during the first two weeks of December, the UNM-LA bond issue is likely to fail, while the LA Public Schools referendum is likely to pass.

The two questions are now in the hands of voters.

The survey by Southwest Planning and Marketing of Santa Fe is based on 408 telephone interviews with registered Los Alamos voters and was designed to test their awareness of the UNM-LA and Los Alamos Public Schools bond issues and, more generally, their attitudes about bond issues and education in Los Alamos.

In stark terms, only 28 percent of the sample population expected to vote on the UNM-LA question and of those voters, 56 expected to vote against, while 16 percent were undecided. If approved, the UNM-LA vote would add a 2-mil levy ($2 for each $1,000 of net taxable value of property in the county.) The most common reason for voting against the UNM-LA issue was “by far” because “taxes are already too high” or that the voter was opposed to higher taxes.

By contrast on the question of the public schools, 50 percent of voters expected to vote in favor of maintaining the current level of property taxes to provide for technology and small school site improvement projects; 38 percent said they would vote against. But demonstrating some confusion about the differences in the two questions, those registered voters who are opposed said the reason was high taxes, as well, even though a vote against the question would not lower taxes, but would mean the county could not pass along the 3.2-mil levy already approved to the public school system.

By far the main reason for voting in favor of both questions had to do with the importance of education and higher education, respectively, followed by the related reason of maintaining high quality educational offerings.

In testing respondent’s knowledge of UNM-LA, the survey found that only 27 percent of the respondents knew that the college does not receive operational or capital funds from other UNM branches, nor that high school students can attend UNM-LA for dual credit but that the local college does not receive tuition for the courses they take.

The survey offered the respondents a few items of extra information on UNM-LA and asked them how important they thought the additional information might be. All five of the suggested items favorable to UNM-LA’s bond issue were considered important, in this order of significance:

• UNM-LA has not requested a tax increase in 28 years.

• UNM-LA ranked first among 10 branch campuses in New Mexico in the percentage of student credit hours taken in academic course.

• UNM-LA receives 48 percent of its operating revenue from the state of New Mexico and just 10 percent from local property taxes; that its property tax rate ranks 16th out of 17 two-year colleges in New Mexico and that it has experienced two consecutive years of budget cuts averaging 3.7 percent.

The results of the survey have a 4 percent margin of error, at the 95 percent confidence level, which means that 95 percent of the time, the results for the entire population of voters would not vary by more than 4 percent from the data obtained in the survey.

Finally, it is a stressful time for many people in many places, but Los Alamos County is one of very few places in the country and the state where employment and income has not taken a total dive for the majority of the population.

If UNM-LA becomes a victim of the times and the voters’ moods, that may not be helped, but if UNM-LA becomes the victim of voter ignorance, that would not serve it or the community.

There are frustrated and aggravated voters in every precinct who will vote their own minds no matter what arguments have been presented to them. Too many others will simply vote by not voting, which is a decision by default.

It’s a funny thing that the electorate only seems right when they’re on one’s own side. In fact, they sometimes show an uncanny apprehension that can only be understood after the votes are in.