For the first time in Santa Fe’s history, voters can now use an online portal to sign nominating petitions and make qualifying donations for candidates seeking public campaign financing in the Nov. 7 election.
The city joins Albuquerque as the only two municipalities in the state to offer an online option for the processes. City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic describes the new portal as “exciting,” saying it has been on her priority list since taking office about a year and a half ago.
“It’s been a huge desire to bring technology in a variety of ways in my department,” she tells SFR. “This was a transition that we heard would be great, and I think it has been really convenient for candidates and residents.”
The introduction of the portal comes just months after changes made in an election code rewrite allowed for electronic contributions.
Santa Fe elections have included the option for candidates to seek public campaign cash since 2008. Candidates for City Council who collect enough $5 contributions from voters in their districts receive $15,000 and pledge to only use that money for the campaign rather than conducting private fundraising. Council candidates seeking public campaign financing can, however, collect “seed money” contributions of up to $100 per donor with a cap of $3,750 for expenses in the early campaign period.
Katherine Rivera, a candidate for the District 1 City Council seat who is seeking public funds, says she and her fellow candidates see the benefits of the online portal, though she notes it could use a few improvements such as a fix to slow-loading screens that may deter voters, as well as a better method to make sure both steps in the two-step process are completed.
Some voters, she tells SFR, are hesitant to share personal data over the internet.
The portal, she says, is “a valuable asset, but it’s a hard sell for those with data concerns.” That’s especially true among older voters, she says.
A 2021 online survey of nearly 3,000 adults from AARP Research found that 34% of people aged 50 and over cited privacy concerns as a top barrier for adopting new technology, and 83% were not confident what they do online remains private.
Rivera says the city has been responsive to feedback from the candidates.
When discussing data concerns, Bustos-Mihelcic acknowledged the “very valid fear,” but said the city took steps to ensure data security, and still allows other forms of verification.
“There were measures that were put in place; we worked very closely with our IT department and our finance department,” she says, “and we also still have options for people who just don’t feel comfortable sending an online nominating petition.”
For those people, a hard signature and cash or a check will do the trick.
District 3 City Council seat candidate Louis Carlos says both his wife and son have used the online service without error. Despite this, he prefers many aspects of the traditional option to the online option.
“[The online portal] is a good tool for people that can actually just go online and enter their information and go straight to the candidate they want to support, but nothing is going to beat a grassroots campaign where you’re shaking hands and meeting people in the community,” he says.
Bustos-Mihelcic says the City of Santa Fe recently generated a QR code that will be sent to candidates who plan to go door to door and can also be included on promotional items like handouts.
The online option has an edge over the in-person option because of its immediate registered-voter verification, a feature which both Rivera and Carlos commended. Viewers can also monitor online how much a candidate has collected so far.
Bustos-Mihelcic says New Mexico is working towards a statewide online option for nomination petitions and qualifying donations in the next election cycle, and noted she’s been in touch with the Office of the Secretary of State about the process of creating the portal.
The city leaned on officials in Albuquerque who had rolled out a similar portal. Bustos-Mihelcic says she plans to conduct an evaluation of the program after the period for candidates seeking public funding to qualify has ended.
“Sometimes I say we should be at the forefront of an opportunity, or we can wait and see how everyone else does it,” she says. “And in this case, I was actually really excited and really proud of the city being a step forward and the support that we’ve received to move forward with this program.”
Candidates seeking public campaign financing must collect nominating petitions and reach 150 qualifying contributions from registered voters by July 24. Those not seeking public funds can declare their candidacy until Aug. 29.
To make a qualifying contribution or sign a petition, visit https://santafepcf.com.
Read all of SFR’s election coverage here.