November 5, 2019

‘Democracy Dollars’ voted down, but other public financing improvements, bonds pass

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Andy Lyman

Albuquerque City Hall

A high-profile ballot question in Albuquerque endorsed by three Democratic presidential candidates failed on Tuesday in a high-turnout election.

With all precincts reporting, the unofficial results showed “No” winning with 51.25 percent of the vote in unofficial results. 

The Democracy Dollars ballot initiative would have shored up the city’s public financing program and allowed city residents to direct vouchers of $25 for qualified candidates. 

Related: Two ABQ council races likely headed for a runoff election

Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren each lent their support to the proposal, with the latter two doing so on Election Day. And Castro endorsed it on Oct. 29, as early voting was about to end.

By Election Day, nearly 44,000 voters had cast ballots on the question, either through early or absentee voting—more than cast ballots on Election Day.

Before then, there was fierce campaigning on both sides of the issue.

Progressive groups organized around the ballot question, an effort years in the making. 

Meanwhile, conservative groups like the Rio Grande Foundation campaigned against the question.

“It appears that the misnamed ‘Democracy Dollars’ measure is going down to defeat,” Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing said on Twitter. “This is a huge win for ACTUAL democracy and a defeat for the out of state left-wing big money groups that spent more than $500,000 and will have to try this scheme elsewhere.”

Another ballot to update public financing, Proposition 1, did pass. The proposal, which would provide language to deal with “in-kind” donations, increases how much each candidate could raise in “seed money” and makes other changes to public financing, easily passed.

The proposal will also allow mayoral candidates who qualify for public financing to receive $1.75 per registered voter, an increase from $1.00, and for qualified city council candidates to receive $0.60 per registered voter, up from $0.33.

The groups celebrated the passage of Proposition 1. 

“This year, Albuquerque voters uplifted the conversation, at the local and national level, on reforming our democracy and diminishing the influence of wealthy special interests in politics,” Common Cause Executive Director Heather Ferguson said in a statement. “Democracy Dollars and Proposition 1 engaged Albuquerque’s citizens in exploring alternative systems to empower everyday voters and lift up the voices of the diverse communities that make up our city.”

“Tonight, Albuquerque voters have made it clear that pushing big money and special interest money out of elections is a priority, ensuring the issues people of our city care about are front and center in our local politics,” said James Povijua, Policy Director for the Center for Civic Policy. “Once again Albuquerque join other cities in leading the national conversation on reforming our democracy, creating new avenues for engagement in politics, and ensuring the decision-making process is based on community, not special interests agendas that do not reflect the realities of communities.”“Proposition 1 is changing the narrative of our elections — diminishing some of the outsized power interest money has had in our local elections!”

All of the city’s bond elections also easily passed.

“Today, Albuquerque reaffirmed our top priorities, approving by wide margins the City bond initiatives to fight crime, address homelessness, and rebuild infrastructure,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. “Albuquerque voters gave us another clear mandate to continue moving our city forward with investments to tackle our biggest challenges head on.”

The turnout was higher than in past non-mayoral races, likely because of laws passed during the last legislative session. 

“It’s a little hard to make direct comparisons, because this is the first regular local election,” Secretary of State spokesman Alex Curtas told NM Political Report Tuesday after polls closed.

He said the idea around the consolidation, supported by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, was to have more people turn out.

The law allowed municipalities and school boards to move consolidate elections; in addition to municipal races and ballot questions, voters cast ballots for school boards, soil and water districts and community college boards. 

All of these races saw relatively low turnouts in past elections and legislators hoped by consolidating them to one date it would increase voter participation.

Correction: This story originally said the proposal would have allowed voters to direct $25 in vouchers to candidates of their choice. It would have allowed city residents, not just voters, to have the vouchers.