Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

Vote Ballot Box Hand Suit Vote  - pjedrzejczyk / Pixabay
pjedrzejczyk / Pixabay

It’s election season, and we here at The Paper. are covering everything you need to know this month to make the most informed voting choice. (Hopefully.) This is why we asked the question, “What happens when there’s an election with no candidates?” It’s the same question the League of Women Voters asked when they noticed 17 elected seats in Bernalillo County and 23 seats in Sandoval County in the Public Improvement Districts had no candidates. Now, these positions aren’t highly publicized, and may not have as much sway as a city councilor, but they’re elected positions nonetheless.

What’s a PID?

A PID is a Public Improvement District, which often affects no more than just a few hundred people. PIDs are small political subdivisions in a city or county that can levy taxes for improving public infrastructure within that district. PIDs are under the authority of the New Mexico Public Improvement District Act. In other words, PIDs are a hyper-local form of financial governance for public investments within a city or a county.

Due to the hyper-local nature of PIDs, open seats have historically received very little coverage by media. In an email to The Paper. the League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico highlighted how this issue may have been exacerbated after the 2018 Local Election Act was passed, which consolidated local elections on a Nov. 2 ballot. The act consolidated numerous, arbitrarily scheduled local elections for voters; but some elections have the potential to be overshadowed by larger ones, such as the upcoming mayoral race this November.

The Local Election Act

The Paper. spoke to State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, who sponsored the 2018 Local Election Act, about how the vacancies are filled and how to better inform the public about the countless local elections that take place across the state.

According to Ivey Soto, before the Local Election Act was passed in 2018, elections were a free-for-all event that did not abide by any formal structure. “They all used different ways and rules for their election,” said Ivey Soto. “A couple of years prior to us passing the regular local election, in one county alone, they had over 20 different elections in a single year. How is the average voter supposed to keep up with that?”

Through a grueling four-year process that Ivey-Soto compared to the Myth of Sisyphus, the senator set out to consolidate local elections and provide information to voters about when these elections would take place. “The metric that we used was if you were a local government, and the election is not by party, and if you have the authority to impose property taxes, then you shall be in the local regular election.”

Ivey-Soto’s bottom line: “What the voters need to know is that you vote every November.”

How Are Vacancies Filled?

In the event that no one declares for an elected seat, governing bodies in New Mexico have several protocols that they follow to ensure a continuity of governance. If it is a vacancy at the state level, such as a state representative, the county commission from where the empty seat is located, would submit a nomination that the governor would have to approve. For a county seat, the task of filling a vacancy will fall on the county commission. For a municipality like the City of Albuquerque, for most city boards and commissions, the mayor will nominate a candidate. That candidate will have to be approved by the City Council before assuming the vacancy. For a vacancy on the City Council, the mayor has the power to appoint a replacement on his own.

School boards operate somewhat differently from other governing bodies when filling a vacancy. If a minority of seats for a school board are vacant, then the school board is allowed to fill those seats, but if the majority of the seats are declared vacant, then the state secretary of education will make those appointments.

For hyper-local elections, such as a PID, the task of filling a vacancy would fall on the governing body that created that district, which would either be a City Council or county commission. Until a position is filled, the incumbent will remain in their seat until a successor is appointed to ensure a continuity of governance.

For information about local upcoming elections, the county commissioner publishes that information no later than 75 days before the Nov. 2 ballot. Information on the upcoming election can be found on Bernalillo County’s website.

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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.