(Editor’s note: At News-Bulletin deadline, there were 21 provisional ballots still to be qualified and tallied for the Nov. 5 election. The ballots for Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District write-in candidate Andrew Hautzinger still needed to be hand-counted as well. All other races and ballot questions that appeared on a ballot with Hautzinger’s seat have been tallied and are included in the unofficial results.)
The first ever regular local election is in the books for Valencia County and turnout seems to have been higher than expected.
With five nonpartisan races on the ballot, two general obligation bonds and a property tax increase, voters had a lot to mull over this year.
Valencia County Clerk Peggy Carabajal said early voting, which began Oct. 8, was fairly slow but on Tuesday, voters showed up in droves, especially at the voting convenience center at the Los Lunas Schools administrative building.
There was a near constant line of voters there all day, and when the clerk’s office was alerted to long wait times, Carabajal called for additional ballot-on-demand systems.
“From the people who talked to me, the longest wait they had there was 45 minutes,” Carabajal said. “The moment we found out the Los Lunas center was receiving more voters than anticipated, we immediately called our election vendor and had two more ballot-on-demand systems brought in within an hour or two.
“We do have a minimal staff at the clerk’s office, and every one of them pulled together to make this a successful Election Day. I had to dispatch three employees in shifts to the Los Lunas center to help with the amount of people who showed up to vote.”
Carabajal said moving forward, the clerk’s office wants more people to become poll officials.
“In 2020, we will have the 15 Voting Convenience Centers, and we maybe able to add a couple more,” she said. “I would like to thank all the entities and everyone involved that helped with this first ever Regular Local Election.”
If you are interested in becoming a poll official, contact the clerk’s office at 866-2080.
On Election Day, 3,558 ballots were cast, 1,691 alone at the Los Lunas center. The other three voting locations — Belen City Hall, Rio Communities City Hall and the Belen Consolidated Schools administrative building — got 696, 575 and 596 voters, respectively.
According to numbers provided by the New Mexico Secretary of State, there were 2,416 ballots cast during the four weeks of early voting and 298 people voted absentee this year.
There are 43,144 registered voters in Valencia County, including the 44 added this year, due to same-day registration, resulting in a 14.5 percent turnout this year.
“It’s hard to predict voter turnout, especially this year since this is the first time anyone has used this process,” the clerk said. “Traditionally, school board elections have been less than 3 percent. I don’t know what typical turn out is for municipal elections since until this year, they have run their own.
“This was a big turnout and, moving forward, we can better evaluate and anticipate voter turnout based on this election,” Carabajal said. “We will collaborate with local agencies to reevaluate the number of voting centers needed.”
Like elections in years past, the county used Voting Convenience Centers on Tuesday, which allows voters to vote at any location, rather than being tied to a specific place based on residency.
This year, there were three elections in the southern part of the county – Belen and Rio Communities city councils and the Belen Board of Education.
In previous municipal and school board elections, the governing bodies in charge have typically consolidated polling locations to only a few.
The following results are unofficial until they are canvassed and certified by the Valencia County Commission at 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 14. The winning candidates will be sworn in at separate ceremonies held by the governing bodies on Jan. 1, 2020.
Belen City Council
In the city of Belen council race, three candidates filed for the two open seats and the newcomers took them.
Robert Noblin Jr. and Danny Bernal Jr. received 672 and 509 votes, respectively, to incumbent Wayne Gallegos’ 403. Gallegos has served for three terms.
Bernal is a case assignments supervisory lead at ADC Ltd. NM, and Noblin is the owner/funeral director for Noblin Funeral Service in Belen and Los Lunas.
Rio Communities City Council
In the city of Rio Communities, six candidates ran for two available council seats.
Incumbent Councilor Peggy Gutjahr received 430 votes, and Jim Winters received 298, putting them in the lead.
Arturo Sais, who was elected to the council in 2016, received 205 votes, John Thompson received 207, Allan Zach took 170 and Jerry Don Gage got 57.
Gutjahr is a retired registered nurse appointed to the council in 2015 and re-elected in 2016. Gutjahr is also a certified municipal official
Winters has a bachelor of science in medical technology/chemistry and is a laboratory scientist specializing in coagulation (hemostasis) disorders. He is a member of the city’s planning zoning commission.
Belen Board of Education
The three seats on the Belen Board of Education drew four candidates, including three incumbents.
In District 1, incumbent Max Cordova, a retired Belen Schools administrator first elected to the board in 2015, received 536 votes.
The incumbent for District 2, Cecilia Yvonne McCloud, lost her seat to challenger Aubrey Tucker, 247 to 189. Voters in Valencia and Socorro counties cast ballots in that race.
Tucker has a master’s degree in educational administration and a bachelors in music education. He is a retired school administrator and has not held an elected position before.
District 3 incumbent Larry Lindberg ran unopposed for his third term, and received 712 votes. He is a retired chief inspector for the United States Marshal Service and a retired U.S. Army chaplain with a masters degree in education and bachelor of science degree in education.
Los Lunas Board of Education
All five seats on the Los Lunas Board of Education were on the ballot, drawing three incumbents and five new candidates.
In District 1, Frank Otero who was elected to his first term on the board in 2015, and is retired from the New Mexico Department of Health, ran unopposed and received 551 votes. Otero previously served on the board from 2007 to 2011, and has a degree in business management.
Two newcomers filed to run for the District 2 seat. Eloy G. Giron received 279 votes and Margaret Suzette Milarch received 190. Giron works for Sandia National Labs and is a former Valencia County commissioner.
In District 3 David Vickers ran unopposed, and took home 290 votes. He is the owner of New Frontier Hobbies, and served on the Los Lunas Board of Education from 1995 to 1999 and was a state representative for District 7 from 1999-2000. He has a bachelors degree in political science.
First elected to the District 4 seat in 2015, Bryan C. Smith ran unopposed and received 584 votes. He works at Sandia National Labs.
The only two-year term seat on the board was the District 5 race, which drew three candidates — incumbent Brandon Campanella, Carey J. “CJ” Salaz and Steven R. Otero.
Otero looks to be the winner with 218 votes to Campanella’s 215 and Salaz’s 113. He is a retired Los Lunas Schools facility manager and has completed three years of classes at Western New Mexico University.
University of New Mexico-Valencia Advisory Board
The local college advisory board had three seats open this year. The incumbents all ran unchallenged.
In Position 2, which represents Belen Consolidated Schools, Belinda Martinez a retired educator from Belen Schools, who received 2,362 votes. Martinez was elected to the advisory board in 2003.
For Position 3, Robert Russell Griego, a manager at Bank of the West in Los Lunas, received 2,049 votes. Griego has been on the board since 2011.
Paul T. Luna, a retired school administrator, will retain Position 5 with 2,092 votes. He was elected to the board in 1999.
Both positions 3 and 5 represent Los Lunas Schools.
Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors
In the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors race, three seats were on the ballot but only one was contested.
The incumbent for Position 1, Abel Camarena, ran unopposed and received 4,228 votes. He was appointed to the board in 2008 as a representative for the Pueblo of Isleta. Camerena has a bachelor of science degree in wildlife management and is retired from the USDA Forest Service.
For Position 2, incumbent Andrew Hautzinger was the only candidate on the ballot and ran as a write-in. At the time of publication, the write-in ballots had not been hand tallied.
A retired federal hydrologist, Hautzinger has a bachelor’s degree in watershed science from Colorado State University.
The Position 5 race drew two candidates — Gail Goodman and Juanita Herrera. Goodman, a doctor of education who retired from the teaching and research field, received 3,014 votes to Herrera’s 2,183.
Other ballot questions
Both local school districts had general obligation bonds on the ballot.
Belen Consolidated Schools asked for and received a $10 million bond, with a vote of 2,084 for and 1,095 against.
Los Lunas Schools’ $22 million bond question also passed 1,750 for to 1,329 against.
Both can be used for new buildings, computer hardware and software, matching funds for capital outlay projects and other expenses.
The VSWCD asked voters for a 1 mill tax levy, an increase to the current quarter mill levy which has been in place since 2013. It failed 2,051 for and 4,082 against. The quarter mill levy will sunset in 2023.