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Key Takeaways from the 2019 New Mexico Elections

Key Takeaways from the 2019 New Mexico Elections

The results from Tuesday’s elections in New Mexico were varied but have clear implications for next year’s presidential election cycle in the state. Here are key takeaways from the 2019 election cycle in New Mexico:

I. Voter Turnout

There was a stark contrast in voter turnout between the state’s two largest urban centers. In Bernalillo County 23 percent of voters showed up, more than doubling the historically low turnout of 8.2 percent four years prior in 2015. In Doña Ana County, voter turnout was 16.5 percent, which is a couple points under the 18.6 percent turnout seen in 2015.

The turnout bump in Bernalillo is largely the result of two factors. First, this was the first consolidated election under the new rules passed by the legislature where smaller elections are grouped together in an effort to boost engagement and turnout. Second, there were considerable resources spent by Republican and Democrat allies for GOTV, including over $500,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions by progressive supporters of the failed Democracy Dollars effort.

In Doña Ana, the stagnant turnout figure seems to diminish the turnout boost that can be directly attributed to the consolidated election change in Bernalillo. Clearly, the disparity in voter turnout shows the power of organized GOTV: while the turnout in Bernalillo was boosted by an election where both sides were incentivized to win by turning out voters, in Doña Ana the turnout operation was essentially one sided.

II. Doña Ana Takeaways

For the first time Las Cruces had an election using ranked voting (RCV), a voting system where voters to rank candidates by preference. If no candidate wins a majority of votes instant runoffs occur in consecutive rounds where the last-place finisher is eliminated from contention until one candidate has won at least half of the first-place votes.

Advocates of RCV argue that it ensures that every vote counts, it opens up the political race, and promotes civility. But its results have been mixed, and it is unclear whether the promised benefits are worth the added complexity that may result in ballot errors and lower voter participation (especially among those in the electorate who are already the most vulnerable to being underrepresented).

The Las Cruces mayor’s race ended up going nine rounds before Ken Miyagishima was declared the winner. The RCV outcome can be hard to predict but as the candidate backed by the progressives Miyagishima was strongly favored to win. The GOP’s lack of any semblance of a well-organized GOTV was compounded by the fact that they split their support among several candidates, paving the way for Ken Miyagishima’s fourth term despite concerns about the city’s business climate that have not been seriously addressed. Four years ago in 2015 there was considerable spending by conservative political committee GOAL WestPAC but in this year’s election there was very little independent political spending by any conservative political group.

There were no surprises in the races for the three seats on the Las Cruces City Council that were up for election with the progressives maintaining all three seats. In District 1 Councilor Kasandra Gandara was easily reelected in the first round, Tessa Stuve was elected after three rounds in District 2, and Johana Bencomo elected after two rounds in District 4.

The lone bright spots for conservatives were a couple of wins on the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District (DASWCD) as well as winning a seat on the board of the Las Cruces Public Schools.

III. Bernalillo Takeaways

The stagnant turnout in Doña Ana stands in stark contrast to the surge in turnout in Bernalillo. Some credit the election advertising by the county clerk but that impact is likely nowhere near as significant as the GOTV efforts employed by both sides.

In District 2 Democrat Ike Benton was unable to reach the 50 percent threshold to win and will head into a runoff election December 10th with runner-up and fellow Democrat Zack Quintero. The establishment Dems have circled the wagons around Benton leaving Zack with a tough but not impossible second shot to claim victory.

In District 4 Republican Brook Bassan came up just shy of the 50 percent mark and will also go into a runoff against Democrat Ane Romero to replace retiring Brad Winter. This district was a showdown of GOTV efforts as evidenced by the more than doubling in turnout from four years prior: turnout in 2015 was 4,994 while turnout on Tuesday was 10,405. The runoff election will be a shootout with both sides expected to continue to hit the district hard up and through the second week of December.

In District 6 and District 8 incumbents Pat Davis and Trudy Jones both as expected cruised to reelection. Turnout was up in both districts by 73 percent and 416 percent respectively from four years prior (though note that Jones was unopposed in 2015).

Despite the fact all the city’s bonds elections passed including money for a homeless shelter, money for APS and CNM, and an increase in public financing, a high-profile ballot question called “Democracy Dollars” failed with 51.26 percent voting against the measure. It was a spectacular rejection of a coordinated effort by progressive groups to use taxpayer money to enrich political consultants of a certain ideology and was funded by over a half million dollars of out of state dark money. The effort garnered national attention and was promoted by Democratic presidential candidates Sanders, Warren, and Castro. Evidently Bernalillo voters are ok with higher taxes but allowing certain political hacks to enrich themselves further is a step too far.

IV. Final Thoughts: GOTV matters

The well-organized progressive groups in Las Cruces have dominated the local election scene for years now and have not faced any real organized opposition by the GOP, whose seemingly fatalistic mentality has not helped them organize any meaningful opposition in recent elections to the detriment of locals frustrated with the direction of the city. Bernalillo is a different story: numerous GOP groups organized GOTV efforts this election cycle that almost culminated with an outright victory in District 4. The state GOP was actively engaged in Bernalillo but made zero effort to support Doña Ana other than a filing a lawsuit challenging absentee ballots. This dichotomy between the surge in voter turnout in Bernalillo and the stagnant turnout in Doña Ana does not bode well for the GOP for next year’s election cycle. If the NM GOP hopes to stop its recent fade to obscurity it needs to invest in serious, statewide GOTV efforts in 2020. Without a targeted and organized GOTV effort in Doña Ana, the path to return to greater power and influence in the Roundhouse will be essentially blocked and any hope of flipping the state in 2020 will quickly fade away.