Victor Gallegos, 56, says he’s never voted in his life.
As of 4 pm on Election Day in Santa Fe, that fact had not changed. Instead of voting, the Southside welder was cleaning his white 1987 Toyota 4runner at the Airport Road Car Wash.
Asked why he didn’t cast a ballot, Gallegos responds, “I really couldn’t give you an answer.”
That doesn’t mean the new Santa Fe resident—his apartment complex at the end of Airport Road recently got annexed into the city—doesn’t have political opinions. He’s heard good things about mayoral candidate Bill Dimas and has an opinion about out-going mayor David Coss as well, whom Gallegos says he worked with when Coss was about 19. “I never thought he’d be mayor, you know?” he jokes.
Santa Fe’s municipal elections aren’t known for high rates of civic participation. In the past decade, no more than 20,000 registered voters have cast ballots in any one election. And on Tuesday, where early reports indicated turnout might be at least slightly higher than average at about 15,000 votes, they were faced with a ballot without Coss’ name on it for the first time in eight years, not to mention some fresh names vying for City Council seats and nine amendments to the city’s charter.
Some voters hadn’t even decided which mayoral candidate to select when they arrived at the polling places.
“I’ve heard bad things about all of them,” Kate Kotner says just before voting. “I don’t know [whom to vote for] to tell you the truth.”
Confusion about where voters were supposed to cast ballots didn’t help. Despite the best efforts of the city clerk to get the word out, some didn’t realize precinct locations for statewide elections are sometimes different than for citywide elections. Brian Ortiz discovered this when he went to Salazar Elementary School—the wrong location.
“One year we’re voting here at Salazar, and then some years we’re at [Academy at] Larragoite,” he says. “We never know where we’re supposed to be until we get here.”
“I guess they changed it around a little bit,” said Marcie Vialpando coming outside Sweeny Elementary. She discovered she was supposed to vote at the Southside Library.
The change in locations gave her some time to dwell on her decision on which mayoral candidate to select. “It’s between the gentlemen,” says the 47-year-old Santa Fe County employee, speaking of candidates Bill Dimas and Javier Gonzales.
She says she wouldn’t vote for mayoral candidate Patti Bushee because “she’s been around a long time,” and “she needs to make room for everyone else.”
The choice for mayor was also a difficult one for Stephanie Hubley, who was emerged from Wood Gormley Elementary School in District 2 on Tuesday evening. But Hubley, a schoolteacher, ultimately decided on Bushee, citing the long-time city councilor’s experience at City Hall. Bushee’s campaign message that Santa Fe is “a tale of two cities” resonated with Hubley while one of the criticisms about her—that she’s difficult to work with—“is a complaint constantly thrown at female candidates,” she says.
City Council races, on the other hand, didn’t excite many voters. “I didn’t really feel like I had a dog in this fight at all,” says Jason Lithgow, 29, after casting a ballot for Marie Campos in District 3.