They’re holding another election on June 2. But the organizers have got to be hoping you won’t go to the polls because they are doing their darnedest to keep it quiet. Yes, it’s time once again for our biennial exercise in stealth democracy, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District board election.
Incredibly, this body, which levies some of the taxes on property within its boundaries, has again constructed election rules exquisitely designed to dampen turnout. It’s almost as if the conservancy district had a stake in making sure only the usual handful of determined voters gets to the polls.
The strategy works. Last time, in 2007, turnout in Bernalillo County was a whopping 4 percent (1,800 votes cast out of a possible electorate of 42,000 property owners). And the commissioners selected by this handful of insiders have since kept all MRGCD staff, administration and practices unchanged.
It’s simple: If you want the status quo, make sure few citizens exercise their franchise. The higher turnout, the more likely it is that there will be change; new ideas might leach into the system; some well-paid operatives might get bounced.
Many of the usual niceties of American democracy don’t apply in MRGCD elections. They are considered “special” districts, with idiosyncratic rules. Their staff runs the election, not the county clerk, and that difference makes for the difficulty.
The MRGCD only provides early voting at a single site (the organization’s headquarters at 1931 Second Street SW), even though potential voters are spread throughout the four-county area from Cochiti to Bosque del Apache. They aren’t required to honor wheelchair access or voter-friendly principles.
It is in their strictures on absentee voting, though, that the MRGCD rules get particularly anal-retentive. See, elections run by county clerks have the goal of maximizing turnout and hence make all sorts of reasonable accommodations for voters who won’t be in town or can’t get to the polls on Election Day. But the “special” MRGCD election tries to minimize the number of absentee ballots.
Applications for absentee ballots are dispensed with the miserliness of Oliver Twist’s orphan master dishing out gruel. They can’t be duplicated, and they have to be individually notarized.
If some elected outfit is going to all these lengths to discourage our vote, doesn’t that suggest we damn sure ought to insist on voting, whatever the obstacles?
If you pay property taxes on your residence and you live in the Rio Grande flood plain (essentially between Edith and Coors all along the river), I encourage you to check the MRGCD website and find a polling place. Then read over the information posted by the two candidates for each of two contested Bernalillo County seats and go out and vote.
These seats aren’t districted (hey, it's “special,” remember?), so we can all vote for both of them. In Adrian Oglesby, one of the candidates, I think we have a remarkable opportunity to select someone whose profession is water management and who is familiar with the many issues confronting the district. He deserves our support.
In the other race, I think either Karen Dunning or Bill Turner would be an effective member in that each of them has committed to making the district more responsive.
Make sure you take a driver’s license or other proof of identity with you when you go vote. Just don’t get discouraged. We need to shed some light on these elections. Let’s eliminate the secrecy.