Selena Ontiveros, a sophomore at New Mexico State University, has never participated in a state or local election.
“I just don’t know where to start,” said the 20-year-old creative media major.
Her problem, she said, is the lack of information. “I don’t vote in local elections because I never know who is running or when these elections are being held.”
Ontiveros’ situation is not unique. Doña Ana County Clerk Scott A. Krahling, who is in charge of administering federal, state and county elections, is concerned about the lack of young voters’ participation in county elections.
“In local elections over the course of the last five years, turnout under the age of 25 has been 3 to 3.5 percent. Local elections are basically all of the elections except for the primary and general election. The overall average is nine percent,” Krahling said. “Turnout in local elections is already horrible, and [among younger voters], it gets even worse.”
Krahling believes the low turnout from young voters has to do with the many different elections and ways to administer the laws surrounding each one.
“It is almost impossible to inform all of the voters in the county about the different elections that they qualify for,” Krahling said.
The rules for many elections are often different as well. Krahling has heard that young voters do not participate because they cannot navigate the basics of the electoral system of when and where people can vote. It’s even more difficult for people to figure out what it is that they are voting on and where to get further information to make an informed decision. Through talking to people, Krahling has found many want to vote, but find the process to be too difficult.
“When it is difficult to understand the basics, it’s even more difficult to figure out what it is that you’re voting on,” Krahling said.
He believes there are two solutions. One solution involves the way candidates target young voters, and the other involves consolidated elections. Candidates often target the same people over and over again because certain platforms are easy to use. Krahling said that candidates should look for different ways to target young voters in the county because they are no longer using many of the older platforms, such as newspapers or news broadcasts. It would also help if the county consolidated all local elections into one local “election day.” There are many biennial and annual elections that citizens cannot keep track of.
One way the county clerk’s office is addressing the problem of low voter turnout is to partner with community groups like the Election Advisory Council.
According to the EAC website, the group aims to “increase awareness and understanding of the voter registration process, increase the distribution of election-related information, educate the county’s citizenry on why voting matters, and help improve implementation of election laws.”
Another group working to improve voter participation is the Associated Students of New Mexico State University, which works directly with the county clerk’s office to aid with voter registration.
ASNMSU President Emerson Morrow believes students should be involved in local government. “I live in New Mexico. I pay taxes. I know that my local representatives, senators, our school board members, whether I like it or not, are in charge of the money I am giving them through taxes. So, I want to make sure the best person possible is in charge,” Morrow said.
Many people may not vote because they do not feel directly impacted by the outcome of their vote. Morrow explained that people may not vote in school board elections because they do not currently have children in school. However, taxpayers’ money is still going to schools.
“I want to make my voice heard, and I hope other young people feel the same way,” Morrow said.
NMSU senior Samantha Garza is a government major who works for government relations on campus. Garza is proud to say she is able to register people to vote in Doña Ana County. She earned the right by taking a voter registration training class through the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office. It is very important to Garza that young voters become involved in student and local government. Garza has attended campaign speeches by local candidates. The only reason she knew about them was because she looked up the information herself. She believes that more young voters may attend such events if they are more publicized on social media or if events were brought to places where younger voters already spend time.
“I think candidates can reach more young voters by using social media platforms and coming to campus to talk to students,” Garza said.
Garza also feels strongly about convincing young voters that their voice matters. “In local elections, your vote does matter. A couple votes is all it takes for some people to be elected,” Garza said. “These decisions are going to affect someone, and you can’t complain about a problem around the county if you don’t vote and voice your opinion. I always try to voice my opinion and advocate for young voters.”
Ontiveros also stressed the importance of information. She wishes she had known more about local elections in the past.
“I would feel more strongly towards my community if I was more involved in local elections and other local decisions,” Ontiveros said. She now intends to research local elections further, and hopes that other young voters will do the same.
Krahling voiced a similar opinion.
“I believe in democracy, I believe in people, and the best decisions are made when the most people are involved. I can’t think of anywhere else that I’d rather be working than on the front lines of democracy,” Krahling said.
Upcoming local election details can be found on the Doña Ana County website.