Expanded early voting began Saturday, Oct. 22. After arriving at the polls, voters will have the option to vote for or against three constitutional amendments placed on the ballot.
Amendment 1 regards the distribution of monies from the Permanent Land Grant Fund for public education and early childhood services. Amendment 2 allows for an exception to the anti-donation clause to provide state funding for essential services. Amendment 3 is regarding the amount of time an appointed judge must serve in office before an election can be held for that office.
The New Mexico Legislative Council Service provides a summary of and arguments for and against the amendments, made available in an online .pdf document. The following is a snapshot of the summary and arguments for and against Constitutional Amendment 3.
Senate Joint Resolution 3 of New Mexico’s 55th Legislature proposes to amend Article 6, Section 35 of the state constitution. If the amendment is approved, an appointed judge will be required to serve at least one year before a general election is held for the office to which the judge was appointed. The amendment also makes the language in Article 6, Section 35 gender neutral, changing the words “his application” to “the application” and “chairman” to “chair.” The term “committee” is also changed to “commission” is several instances.
The original text voters are being asked to change reads: “Any person appointed shall serve until the next general election. That person’s successor shall be chosen at such election and shall hold the office until the expiration of the original term.”
If the amendment passes, the new text will read: “The person appointed shall serve until the first general election following one year after appointment. The appointee’s successor shall be chosen at such election and shall hold the office until the expiration of the term in effect at the time of election.”
One argument in favor of the amendment says the requirement to serve at least one year provides more transparency and additional time to evaluate a judge prior to an election. It also gives the appointed judge more time to “hone their judicial skills.”
Another benefit to the one-year requirement is that it gives judges more time to access public financing for elections. If an election occurs shortly after a judge is appointed, they have limited time to comply with the Voter Action Act. The one-year requirement will allow adequate time to meet the deadlines for public financing, which helps to take big money out of elections and create a more independent judiciary.
A third argument in favor of the amendment says a more diverse pool of people will be willing to accept an appointment if they know they will be in that position for the long term. Those who run a private practice may be unwilling to accept an appointment if they must close their business without the assurance of holding the appointed position for at least one year. The one-year requirement will offer more job security for those being appointed to a judgeship.
Requiring an appointed judge to serve one year before an election create scenarios where the judge may serve three years before the next election is held. Another scenario is the judge may only serve a short time after the election is held because of the timing of the expiration of their term, which could require a new appointment at that time. Additionally, a judge who has served for one year will have greater name recognition than another candidate running for the position, providing an advantage, “which ordinarily would not be present in a partisan judicial race.”
Another downside to the amendment is the language does not make it clear if the one-year requirement only applies to appellate court judges or if it applies to district and metropolitan court judges as well. According to the argument, the “ambiguity could lead to litigation” regarding how the amendment applies to district and metro court judges.
A third argument against the amendment is that it could potentially lead to voters making decisions based on the politics of the governor who appointed the judge rather than on the judge’s merit. The argument says, “it is questionable whether this outweighs the interest of the public to provide a quick vote on what was meant to be a mere vacancy.”