City councilors decided to overhaul the voting process for the city’s March elections at a special meeting Thursday night without holding a public hearing.
On the advice of City Clerk Sharon Coll, councilors unanimously voted to implement new Voting Convenience Centers that will eliminate precincts throughout the city.
The new centers will now be limited to eight locations. But voters will be allowed to vote at any of the locations, regardless of where they live.
“This is a greater opportunity for them to be successful for voting, absolutely,” said Mayor Del Jurney.
Chaves County Commissioners were also asked to consider the same system by County Clerk Dave Kunko in October but voted it down, citing concerns that Kunko had not done enough analysis on where he located the new centers.
Commissioners voiced concern that some polling places might not give voters equal access to vote.
Six of the eight sites proposed by the city were identical to the sites proposed by Kunko.
Another location, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, was selected instead of Kunko’s suggestion of the Civic Center next door. The Council also recommended changing two church locations to a school and an alternate church.
Commissioner Greg Nibert, also an attorney, raised a question about a conflict he found with voting centers and his interpretation of the state elections statute.
Kunko had also not given commissioners adequate time to schedule public hearings on the change, Commissioner Robert Corn said in October.
The city has not held any public hearings or conducted any public surveys on the new voting system, Coll said. She had spoken to some of the public who had walked into City Hall and city councilors have spoken to some constituents, she said.
“This is my first election,” Coll told councilors. “I want to make this a better turnout than what we’ve had before, as well as saving taxpayers money.”
Coll has not yet done a financial analysis on whether the new system will save the city money.
“No, I have not,” Coll said after the meeting.
The new system will require new equipment, training for poll workers and logistical refiguring, such as an assurance on constant Internet access.
In the 2011 municipal elections, Roswell had 11 polling places. A year later, the city had 10.
Coll, who is appointed by the City Council, said she started talking to County Clerk Dave Kunko about changing the city’s polling place system in October.
Coll pulled the information off the county web site, she said. The resolution councilors passed Thursday wasn’t completed until that afternoon, including the finalized polling locations, Coll said.
“I started changing them yesterday,” Coll said.
The new plan will now combine the city into one precinct, allowing any voter to cast a ballot at any polling center.
The centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 4.
Locations are listed as Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell Boys & Girls Club, Del Norte Elementary, West Country Club Church of Christ, First Church of the Nazarene, Monterrey Elementary School, Chaves County Clerk’s Office and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.
Some councilors were concerned that no polling center will be located at Roswell High School. Coll said there might not be adequate parking.
Jurney is expected to run for a second term. Councilors whose terms will expire, and whose seats are up for election are: Dusty Huckabee in Ward 1, Jimmy Craig in Ward 2, Art Sandoval in Ward 3, Jason Perry in Ward 4 and Barry Foster in Ward 5.
Declarations for candidacy must be filed by Jan. 7. Voters must register with the Chaves County clerk no later than 5 p.m. on Feb. 4