Analysis: Truth or Consequences City Commission elections allow one faction to fill every seat

by Kathleen Sloan | October 4, 2019
5 min read
​The City of Truth or Consequences has neither a district nor an at-large form of elections, but a strange mixture of the two. Different voting systems give different results and research shows the city’s system results in a prevailing faction that is able to put up and seat its candidates, edging out those with varying views. 

If the city were divided into true districts, with candidates having to live in the district they are running for, elected by voters living in those districts, the election would reflect the people’s choice, at least in those districts, possibly allowing for differing views, reflecting a diverse voting population. 

However, the City has five separate seats that do not correspond to a geographic area and all the candidates represent the whole city, being at-large candidates. Each voter gets to vote for whom they want for each open seat.  

This is a rare form of election. The National League of Cities, Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s 2011 “Voting Methods,” described numerous voting systems, but none were like Truth or Consequences’ system. 

In the Truth or Consequences system this might happen: Imagine there are three seats open on the city commission, as is the case for the upcoming March 5, 2020 election. The last regular election had nearly 800 voters. Assume there is a very strong political group with many members who agree to vote as a block and to put up candidates for each seat. 

The City’s seats divide the votes into distinct blocks, allowing one faction to put up a candidate for each position and to put him or her in office, and to keep them in office for years, since there are no term limits. Wikipedia calls this “cloning” candidates. 

Imagine the first seat has one candidate running unopposed, who wins automatically before the first vote is cast under the City’s current system. Imagine the second seat has two opposing candidates. The political group can garner 401 votes, and it puts their candidate in office. Imagine the third seat has three opposing candidates. The political group easily puts their candidate in office because it only needs 266 votes to edge out the other two candidates. 

A common form of voting, according to Wikipedia, is “plurality voting,” which also combines district and at-large-candidates, akin to Truth or Consequences system, but it is somewhat fairer. Now imagine the same six candidates are running for three open seats. The voter has to choose their top three favorites, with all the candidates running against each other. The political group would be facing greater competition. 

In this scenario, no unopposed candidate wins automatically, everyone must compete. 

According to Wikipedia and Stanford, the political group would probably not prevail completely unless it put up the number of candidates corresponding to the proportion of votes it can garner. Otherwise it splits the vote among its own candidates. In the imagined case, the political group can only wield 401 or half the votes, enough to fill 1.5 seats. Therefore it is likely the third seat will be filled by a minority-view faction and there is a 50-50 chance the same or a different minority-view faction fills the second seat.  
Wikipedia and Stanford also state that “limited voting” allows even more minority-view candidates to be elected, further dampening a majority-faction’s voice and therefore better reflecting a diverse population on governing boards. 

In limited voting, if there are three seats open, the voter is allowed one or two votes, and again, all candidates run against each other. Fewer votes are needed for a candidate to rise to the top. 

There is nothing in Truth or Consequences’ local laws that addresses or lays out the form of voting it is using. 

State law does not address the issue either, stating only that cities with a population over 10,000 with a City Manager/Commission form of government “shall” or must be divided into five districts, with candidates living in the district and voted in by those living in the district. Cities with a population under 10,000 “may” be divided into districts, the law says. 

Truth or Consequences has about 5,900 residents. The New Mexico Municipal League defines Truth or Consequences’ city manager/commission form of government as being one divided into districts, even though it isn’t and it doesn’t adhere to district voting. New Mexico Municipal League Attorney Randy Van Vleck pointed out “district” isn’t defined in the municipal state law, although it is defined under county state law.

The state changed the law on the city manager/commission form of government. Before 1985 it said, “A commissioner shall [must] be elected for each district, but shall [must] be voted on at large.” This may explain how the city arrived at its current form of elections. It appears the state instituted it before 1985.  

There is a remedy, if the citizens want to change the voting system. Citizens in a city manager/commission form of government have more power than in some other forms of municipal government. 

The residents may draft a “measure” to be passed as an ordinance or new local law. The measure must be approved by 20 percent of the voters. The number of signatures required is the 20 percent average over the last four regular elections or 20 percent of voters in the last regular election, whichever number is greater. 

If the petition succeeds, within 30 days after the petition is certified by the city clerk, the commission must decide what it will do. If it doesn’t pass the new ordinance, if it “fails to act,” “acts adversely,” or “amends the proposed measure,” the commission must pass a resolution calling for a special election “within 10 days of the 30-day expiration.” 

If the commission puts forth an amended ordinance, both the petitioners’ and the commission’s ordinance must appear on the ballot, with “for” and “against” checkboxes written after each. 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
Share this:

Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

Scroll to Top