Almost any new city councilor will tell you the learning curve at City Hall can be steep. Elected on a Tuesday in March, Santa Fe's public officials take office six days later.
The curve especially applies if you're the mayor, as Alan Webber is fond of pointing out. It also goes double if you've landed a seat on the Finance Committee, which jumps into the city's budget cycle each April to meet the state's June deadlines.
For voters, too, March elections can be just plain weird. Spring break is right around the corner. It's the last hurrah for ski season. Baseball has started. There's enough going on that turnout somewhere over 30 percent of registered voters is cause for enthusiasm.
Perhaps there's an end to the frustration.
Newly elected District 2 City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth is introducing a measure to change the city's elections to November of odd-numbered years. Councilors, the mayor and the municipal judge would take office after the new year.
"It would give a proper transition," Romero-Wirth tells SFR. "I'm not sure of the exact day they would take office, but it would not be March. It would be January."
The idea of having an extra two months—plus the time in between a November election and January— for a learning curve is something Romero-Wirth thinks makes far more sense when viewed through the lens of good government. It also has a chance to boost voter turnout in the sleepy elections that often have the greatest impact on a voter's day-to-day life.
The idea has been kicked around for a while, and if the council gives the measure the nod, it would go on this November's general election ballot for municipal voters as a proposed change to the city charter.
County clerks hold a lot of sway when it comes to elections in New Mexico, and Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar says that colleagues across the state decided trying to group nonpartisan contests like municipal, school board and conservation district elections into odd-year Novembers made the most sense.
Elections for president, Congress, state- and county-level offices will continue as normal in even-numbered years.
The county owns the voting machines used by the cities and other political districts, and if Santa Feans decide to shift their elections to November, it would be Salazar's office running the show instead of the city.
The state allowed cities and other political districts to make the change with the passage of the Local Election Act in the last legislative session. New Mexico's voting calendar was so fragmented that some counties held up to 11 elections in a single year, according to the Legislative Council Service. The law, which went into effect this month, sets the November odd-year date as the de facto local election schedule and lets cities opt-in from their March elections if they so choose.
"The Local Election Act makes it easier for voters to know when nonpartisan elections are happening, which should lead to higher turnout," Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver tells SFR in a statement. "I'll do everything I can to support Santa Fe and all other New Mexico municipalities that opt-in to the Local Election Act."
That shouldn't be a large issue, even for cities that use ranked-choice voting like Santa Fe.
"Our system can handle this. It's not a problem," says Steven Bennett, who manages sales to Santa Fe for Dominion Voting Systems. "This is just like San Francisco. And Alameda County is another county election with cities [that use ranked-choice voting] like Oakland, San Leandro and Berkeley."
Once the election database is programmed, he says, Dominion's software sees a ranked-choice item on the ballot the same as any other item.
"It's a contest. It's on the ballot just like there's a president or a commissioner's district," Bennett tells SFR, and points out that there were non-ranked-choice items on the last municipal election ballot. Despite hand-wringing at City Hall about how quickly the city would be forced to implement a voting system it had been delaying for a decade (an assistant city attorney went so far as to argue it was unconstitutional), things went well, in Bennett's estimation.
Dominion says it's ready to roll if the city and county decide to put the change to voters. "I'm in the election business," Bennett offers frankly. "This is not a place for maybes."
That sits just fine with Salazar.
"That's what I'm told and that's what I'm relying on," she says.
The city plans to get a draft resolution to the county by Thursday July 19, so Salazar can flag any potential issues before the City Council and mayor vote on the measure July 25. Six days later, the County Commission finalizes the ballot for voters in November.
The first such election would be in November 2019.