Primary elections are tough on voters and candidates

New Mexico’s primary election is among the last scheduled in the nation.

On June 5, we will be joined by California, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota in holding what is described as a “consolidated” presidential and state primary.  North Dakota will hold Democratic caucuses on the same day. The only primary after that will be Utah on June 26.  This is according to the calendar provided by the National Council of State Legislatures.

If you are a Republican and wanted to have your say in the selection of a presidential nominee, you’re out of luck. Personally, I am relieved that New Mexico  bypassed the nastiness that occurred in other states.  The advertising battles will be awful enough in the fall.

I had been wondering how states manage to hold primary elections so early in the year, when candidates for state and local offices haven’t organized themselves yet. As I have learned, some states hold a presidential primary (or caucus, as in the famous Iowa caucus) several months ahead of their state and local primary elections.  Some states, including Super Tuesday states such as Alaska, Georgia, Massachusetts, hold their state primaries as late as August or September.

But not all.  A few states were holding primaries when we still didn’t know where the legislative district lines would be.

Ohio holds its consolidated presidential and state primary on Super Tuesday in early March.  Alabama and Mississippi are a week later, and Illinois one week after that.  I wonder how they do it, especially in a redistricting year. Candidates for state and local offices have to be ready to start campaigning as early as January.  Then, the winners of the March primaries have a seven-month campaign season: seven long months to raise and spend money, ring doorbells, eat rubber chicken, and worry about what their opponent is doing.  For someone running for a low-level local office, that’s a long slog.  Remember, local offices are where future high-level leaders get started.

It’s hard enough to get highly qualified people to choose public service and run for office when the campaign schedules are reasonable.

That’s one reason I don’t like early voting.

Here in New Mexico, you could have voted in this year’s primary as early as May 8, which was the start of “absentee voting in person.”  Early voting starts May 19, giving voters two and a half weeks to find time to get to a polling place.  For those too young to remember, American voters used to be able to find their way to their own precinct and cast their votes on one day.

For voters, May 8 is way too early.  Many voters don’t know yet who is running for office in the lower-level local positions, and this year because of redistricting you might not even know which district you’re in.  How do you make an informed decision?

For candidates, it’s a real problem.   Candidates for local office have limited resources.  If a candidate wants to get your attention with the one or two pieces of literature the candidate has printed, with the small number of friends who have volunteered to walk door to door, or the one newspaper advertisement he or she can afford to buy, when is the right time?  A message sent close to June 5 will miss voters who have already voted, and, thanks to our rather short attention spans, a message sent on May 8 will be forgotten by June 5.

The expansion of early voting and other “improvements” to the election process have been made to encourage more citizens to vote.  I’m concerned, especially at the local level, that these changes may be yet another discouragement keeping the very best people from running for office.

Contact Merilee Dannemann through Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2012




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