The stakes are high — and so may be the costs — of today’s special election.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. so that voters can decide on two state Constitutional amendments and a proposed county gross receipts tax increase.
Of the two amendments, No. 1 would create a cabinet-level secretary of education to oversee the state Department of Education and make the state Board of Education a 10-member, elected advisory board. No. 2 would increase the percentage of funds from the state’ permanent fund used to fund public education.
The third ballot item would let Curry County increase the amount of gross receipts taxes it collects by one-eighths of one percent. County officials say they need the increase because expenses at the adult detention center are draining the county budget.
If the two amendments pass, they will become effective this year, after Oct. 14, when the state canvassing board meets to certify the election official, said Denise Lamb, director of the Bureau of Elections. Trujillo said the gross receipts tax increase would become effective on Jan. 1.
Trujillo said about 1,653 people — among 18,522 eligible voters — participated in absentee balloting, which ended Saturday. Of those, 518 used mail-in ballots, most of which were requested on forms mailed out by groups on opposite sides of the education amendments.
Shawn Sullivan, deputy executive director of the state Republican Party, which supports amendment No. 1 and opposes No. 2, said his group mailed about 105,000 absentee ballot request forms to registered voters statewide.
Amanda Cooper, coordinator of New Mexico Cares, a political action committee co-chaired by Gov. Bill Richardson and former Gov. Garrey Carruthers which supports both amendments, said her group mailed between 75,000 and 90,000 absentee ballot request forms to likely supporters statewide.
This is the first special election in an off-year the state has held since 1973, Lamb said.
She said the Secretary of State asked the Legislature for $1.2 million to cover the cost of the election, but it appropriated $900,000. The secretary will use the appropriate to pay for ballots statewide, but the counties will have to pick up other election expenses, she said.
“If we don’t have enough to pay for this election, we’ll have to go to the Legislature next year and ask for the rest of the money. Counties may have to do the same,” Lamb said.
Trujillo said his office budgeted $45,000 for the election. While he and Deputy Clerk Coni Jo Lyman estimated the office will spend about $20,000 on poll workers today, they said they are still waiting to see the election’s full cost.