Voters will be asked to weigh in on five amendments to the state constitution on the Nov. 4 ballot. As per usual, the amendments are poorly worded and potentially confusing. Our recommendations are based on evaluations of the pro and con arguments prepared by the Legislative Council Service, and are made in conjunction with background conversations with various knowledgeable officials on the impact of these changes.

Constitutional Amendment 1
SFR Pick: Reject
This proposal would expand school boards from seven to nine members in school districts with more than 200,000 people (which at the moment only includes Albuquerque). At the same time, the district would be allowed to hold elections by mail-in ballots, although the amendment does not mandate that it do so.

It is unfortunate the Legislature chose to roll these two proposals together. Voters should have been allowed to evaluate these proposals individually. However, the Legislature should look at a future amendment to create the option for broad mail-in ballot elections, as this would be a great mechanism to expand voter participation and potentially save taxpayer money.

Constitutional Amendment 2
SFR Pick: Reject
Right now, elected county officials are not allowed to give themselves a raise mid-term. If passed, Constitutional Amendment 2 would allow county commissioners to give raises to the sheriff, assessor, treasurer, clerk, surveyor and probate judge. Oh yeah, and themselves. While state law sets the maximum pay for county officials, a figure based on the size of the county, there can be occasional inequity. For example, right now, the two incumbent commissioners on Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners make less than the three newer commissioners because they were elected at different times.

Constitutional Amendment 3
SFR Pick: Reject
Cabinet secretaries are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the state Senate. This amendment would require these folks be reconfirmed at the beginning of each gubernatorial term. Therefore, in addition to creating yet another way for lawmakers to waste time, voters also would be signing off on a plan that would allow legislators to try to boot out cabinet heads with whom they have political or personal beefs.

Constitutional Amendment 4
SFR Pick: Approve
This amendment would change the constitution so it would be possible to hold school board elections at the same time as other non-partisan elections—such as municipal races. It does not require this to happen; it just makes it possible for the Legislature to do further work on the law to eventually make this happen. And, indeed, lawmakers would have to amend municipal and school election laws—as was done last year to enable Santa Fe Community College and Santa Fe Public Schools to combine their elections in the future. Combining non-partisan elections could go a long way toward increasing turnout and decreasing costs.

But lawmakers cannot proceed if this amendment isn’t passed. Why? Because right now, under the law, school board elections cannot be held with any other election. Why? Because the law dates to a time in the early part of the last century when the only elections women were legally allowed to vote in were school board elections. Call this one overdue.

Constitutional Amendment 5
SFR Pick: Reject
This amendment would allow the governor to appoint a replacement lieutenant governor and require that appointment receive approval by the majority of the state Senate.

While it is true there isn’t a law that directly addresses this hypothetical vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office, it also is true no one can recall this ever having presented any problems. There is no reason a potential lapse in the Lt. Gov.’s office couldn’t be survived until a regular election, nor is there any barrier to holding a special election for the seat.

Given the speculation about Gov. Bill Richardson’s potential departure prior to the end of his term (for the rumored cabinet appointment should Barack Obama be elected), this amendment sounds like a very specific piece of jerry-rigging.