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Councilors debate 2020 polling locations

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Roswell City Clerk Sharon Coll said at the full city council meeting on Thursday night that there are many “unanswered” questions in regard to the Local Election Act. Coll listed six polling locations for the 2020 Municipal Officers Election and stood for questions from the 10 councilors. (Alison Penn Photo)

Measure to add seventh location fails

Six polling locations have been approved through a resolution by the Roswell City Council for the 2020 Municipal Officers Election on March 3.

All 10 councilors were present at the nearly five-hour meeting on Thursday night at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center.

City Clerk Sharon Coll presented the following six locations, with the option to add a seventh: Basset Auditorium in Roswell Museum and Art Center, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Church of Christ on West Country Club Road, Waymaker Church, the Chaves County Clerk’s Office and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.

Councilor George Peterson made a motion for an amendment to include the Boys & Girls Club at 201 S. Garden Ave. as the seventh polling place and Councilor Juan Oropesa seconded. The amendment to add the Boys & Girls club failed, 8 to 2, with only Oropesa and Peterson in favor.

For the resolution itself, the council’s voice vote passed it 9 to 1, with Oropesa opposing.

For polling locations, Coll said sites are required to have a secured area for the delivery of tabulators and laptops, must be available for days prior and a day after the election and must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Local Election Act 

Coll explained a resolution is required for each election and deciding on locations for polling places.

Coll said there are many unanswered questions about the Local Election Act (LEA), which was passed by the Legislature last year.

According to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website, the LEA was passed to create a statewide local election for nonpartisan officers and local government ballot questions in November in odd-numbered years, and a municipal officers election in March for even-numbered years.

School districts and other special districts are required to have elections in November, but municipal districts can decide to opt-in for November elections.

City Councilor Barry Foster asked about paying for the election, and in response, Coll said if the city had decided to opt-in, to have elections in November, the city would not have to pay for the election.

Foster also asked if the city would have to go through district court to change voting locations at a later date. Coll explained if constituents petitioned the council to change polling locations, the city would have to go to court and a new resolution would have to be passed.

However, she said the council could change the locations at will by passing another resolution to be certified by the state.

City Manager Joe Neeb said the RMAC’s courtyard entrance could allow people to enter on 11th street, responding to Foster’s concern about a “lengthy walk” into the Bassett Auditorium at the RMAC to vote. Coll said the city engineer and county will need to confirm the courtyard entrance side is ADA compliant.

Seventh location 

Peterson noted the Boys & Girls Club was a previous location and asked why it was not selected this year. Coll said there were some equipment security issues at that location. Looking at the map, Peterson suggested adding another south location for convenience.

“If you look at 2014, 158 people voted at the Boys & Girls club, 110 people at the campus,” Peterson said. “If you look in 2016, Boys & Girls Club — 163 people voted there. And if you look at March 2018 election at the campus, it shows 99 people voted for the mayor. So I think there’s a lot more people voting, if we give them the chance, I think more people will vote if they have another place.”

Foster reminded the council that construction on the club’s gym was possibly set to start in October. Without seeing final plans, Kevin Dillon said it was highly unlikely that construction would be done in time for the election in March. Dillon said there are “significant improvements” for the gym planned.

Councilor Caleb Grant compared the conversation about having the Boys & Girls Club as a location to “deja vu.” Later, Grant said he was “strongly against” having the Boys & Girls Club based on data from other elections. Councilor Jeanine Best said she agreed with Grant and thought either the County Clerk’s Office or ENMU-R should be removed.

Historically, the Boys & Girls Club and ENMU-R had low voter turnout, Coll said.

“I know last time when we had this conversation, we were down to five and we’ve added six, which is the college,” Grant said. “So Ward 5 I believe has two, which of course has the lowest voter turnout in every election as well. So obviously, we’re trying to reach — be accessible to all those people.

“Like I said, all the data shows that it’s really the working people up on the other side of town are voting at that location out of convenience. It’s not driving the local registered voters down there to show up to the polls. …”

Oropesa said the city was better off with more voting places to potentially increase participation. He said low turnout at the college or funding another location was not a concern for him.

Best encouraged more social media marketing for free city bus rides to the polls during the election. Coll said voters tell the driver which location they want to vote at, and they will be driven there for free.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.