April 24, 2023
Dear County Commissioners:
The Democratic Party of Santa Fe County is writing in support of personnel retention and a secure location to process absentee ballots for our city, county, state and federal elections planned through 2024.
Elections are key to our democracy, and expert and efficient administration of them is crucial to our citizens’ confidence in them.
Our Party represents several tens of thousands of voters throughout Santa Fe County. And we do not need to remind you how important an efficient election here is to Democrats’ success in NM as a whole, as we saw in 2022.
We understand that there is currently a 70% vacancy rate in the County Clerk’s Office. The recent comp and class study has decimated the Clerk’s Office, resulting in very low raises awarded to the many vital Election Bureau personnel. The County has already lost significant institutional knowledge as a result of election techs’ departure for other higher paying jobs across the hall.
The recent funding for free and fair elections passed by the legislature as part of SB180 will not cover personnel nor warehouse space, as it is the county’s responsibility to cover these expenses in the county budget.
Elections for city and county offices, for our local school board and the upcoming 2024 presidential election are vital to our democracy. The citizens and voters in Santa Fe County expect qualified elections staff to be paid for their expertise, at least $26 per hour as staff in other county departments are paid. The County Clerk’s Office and Bureau of Elections need qualified personnel to work in elections and create a career ladder to be able to retain election knowledge in the county.
We support three asks regarding pay:
- Raise the baseline salary to the rest of the elected offices (the clerk’s Office is far below all other offices and it cannot compete);
- Support the reorganization so we can keep staff, modernize elections with a career ladder and retain institutional knowledge;
- Raise the salary of the chief deputy to match the salaries of other chief deputies and management in the county.
Additionally, our party sees the urgent need for 15,000 square feet of space in order to be able to run free, secure and fair elections, including processing absentee ballots. The current situation is not tolerable for the elected officials who work hard in their election campaigns, nor for the voters who have come to expect high standards of voting administration, as carried out in the past in Santa Fe County. The warehouse or similar safe, stable location must meet Secretary of State specifications such as:
- The clerk’s Office has complete control of ballots;
- Include a generator to protect critical infrastructure;
- Include adequate electrical to support 140 tabulators, etc.
We cannot expect election volunteers to “camp out” to protect absentee ballots; nor do we expect the increased expense of security guards when the Clerk’s Office has identified a secure building that could be easily renovated to meet these requirements.
We oppose the renovation of a small juvenile facility, which has only 5,600 square feet of space. To build out in phases an additional 10,000 feet will serve to make Santa Fe County non-compliant for several years. This is not acceptable. This is especially true when the County Clerk has already identified a compliant building with easier renovations.
This significant security problem can be remedied with a simple solution to work with the vendor renting half the current ballot warehouse. This is a more cost-effective solution than the current vendor paying below market rates and spending more than $24,000 trying to rent space and hire armed guards to protect ballots for elected offices each election. It seems that it is time for the county to give this vendor the required 90 days’ notice.
We have two asks here:
- Ask the county to give notice to their vendor to enable the Clerk’s Office to use the old warehouse to process ballots for now.
- Purchase the identified building for renovation (it is currently in good shape and priced cheaply). The County Clerk has been awarded nearly $1.3 million for renovation, and the County Commission can ask the legislature next session to adjust the renovation amount that meets the cost necessary to purchase a building and be ready for the fall 2024 presidential election. The building will be suitable for subsequent elections going forward.
The Democratic Party of Santa Fe County respectfully asks the County Commissioners to support an increase in pay to equitable salaries aligned with other technical county positions. Further, we ask the commissioners to work with the County Clerk on the ability to use an existing warehouse and budget with the legislature sufficient funds to pay for an easily renovated space identified by the County Clerk.
Our future elections require/demand it.
Henry Roybal, Chair, Democratic Party of Santa Fe County
Mary Jane Parks, 1st Vice-Chair, Democratic Party of Santa Fe County
David Thompson, 2nd Vice-Chair, Democratic Party of Santa Fe County
Democratic Party of Santa Fe County, 1420 Cerrillos, Santa Fe, NM 87505