Despite the objections of several community members from Valencia County’s east side, county commissioners approved a list of voting locations for the 2020 primary and general elections without reestablishing one in Meadow Lake.
During public comment at last week’s commission meeting, after the vote was already taken, Meadow Lake resident Bob Gostischa said no one asked community members if they were being disenfranchised by the closure of what was a very active polling place. When the county went to voting convenience centers in 2014, the traditional polling place at the Meadow Lake Community Center was eliminated.
In an interview after the meeting, Valencia County Clerk Peggy Carabajal said the center wasn’t kept as a convenience center because of it’s unstable internet connection.
The clerks office use the ballot-on-demand system that prints a customized ballot for each voter, regardless of where they live in the county, which requires a steady, consistent internet connection. Convenience centers also have to be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, secure and well lit.
Another resident of Meadow Lake, Tom Mraz, also advocated for bringing a voting location back to the community.
“There are 1,600 people in Meadow Lake and 1,600 in El Cerro (Mission). We need something with access,” Mraz said. “Everyone in this room has cars and gas. A lot of people out there don’t.”
The Ann Parish Elementary voting convenience center is 6.4 miles from the Meadow Lake Community Center, a situation Mraz called not convenient for people without a car or gas.
Meadow Lake resident Jim Lane said the community center was a place for people to come together on Election Day.
“I’m not saying Ann Parish wasn’t busy, but I didn’t hear any numbers and you didn’t hear the public opinion. If Meadow Lake (had the least amount of voting), then yeah, it’s common sense to take it out,” Lane said. “So much is taken away from Meadow Lake; put something back — please.”
Commission Chairman Jhonathan Aragon asked if the clerk’s office added Meadow Lake as a voting location, would it be at the community center again.
Carabajal made the point that voting convenience centers allowed registered voters to cast a ballot at any of the 15 locations, rather than having to go to an assigned polling place based on precincts.
“If we do add Meadow Lake, we would be looking at getting rid of Ann Parish due to budget restraints, and finding polling officials,” the clerk said.
In an interview Friday, Carabajal said it would cost the county about $15,000 per VCC to add locations beyond the 15 that were approved by the county commissioners. That price includes two voting machines plus necessary poll workers.
“We are talking to residents about their concerns. This is a challenge and we don’t ever want anyone to feel disenfranchised,” the clerk said. “We never want to eliminate a location and will do everything in our power to have appropriate voting facilities for our residents.”
Carabajal acknowledged some residents don’t have reliable transportation on Election Day and urged voters who might not be able to get to a voting convenience center to take advantage of the early voting locations that will be open two weeks prior to Nov. 5, and absentee voting by mail.
The 15 voting convenience centers for the 2020 primary and general elections are Ann Parish Elementary, Belen Community Center, Belen Public Library, Bosque Farms Public Library, Daniel Fernandez Campus-Century High School, Del Rio Senior Center, Don Jose Dolores Cordova Cultural Center, El Cerro Mission Community Center, Fred Luna Multi-generational Center, Logsdon Hall, Los Lunas Schools administration building, Peralta Elementary, Pueblo of Isleta Veterans Center, Thome Dominguez de Mendoza Community Center and The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus.
Early voting locations are the Belen Community Center, Bosque Farms Public Library and the Valencia County administration building.
Nov. 2019 polling locations
The commission also unanimously approved four polling locations for the 2019 local elections on Nov. 5, and three early voting locations.
Election Day polling locations are the Los Lunas Schools administration building, Belen Consolidated Schools administration building, Belen City Hall and Rio Communities City Hall.
Early voting locations will be the Belen Community Center, the Valencia County administration offices and Rio Communities City Hall.
The November elections are for Belen and Rio Communities councils, Belen and Los Lunas boards of education, the University of New Mexico-Valencia campus Advisory Board and the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.