One ballot Bernalillo County initiatives voters will weigh in on this election season may appear perplexing on the surface, but the idea is relatively simple. “It’s basically like a constitution for the county,” former Bernalillo County attorney Randy Autio said of the proposition to establish a home rule charter in the county. “It sets guidelines on what governance in the county would look like.”
The county is home to more than 674,000 people, including all of Albuquerque, and is currently subject to the same governance guidelines as all but one other county in New Mexico. One of those guidelines from state law, for example, only allows for a maximum of five elected officials to represent the county. But state law also allows communities to establish “home rule,” which Autio said would give county voters “the greatest ability to govern themselves.” If voters approve this for Bernalillo County next week, they could in the future push to amend the charter to change the number of county commissioners, who currently represent more than 100,000 people per district on average.
The Bernalillo County Commission’s Thursday decision to vote down two ballot initiatives was seemingly based less on space and more on ownership. A majority of the commission spoke against adding two Albuquerque ballot initiatives, citing ballot space and saying the proposals should be on Albuquerque municipal ballots instead of county-managed ballots. Commissioner Wayne Johnson said he wasn’t comfortable with carrying city proposals on the county-managed ballot without an explicit process. “Until we have a process that is clear, it’s far smarter for us to just not place either items on the ballot,” Johnson said. At issue were two initiatives city councilors wanted to go before Albuquerque voters.
The Bernalillo County Commission voted down two city initiatives on Thursday afternoon that would have appeared on Albuquerque ballots in the upcoming general election. Commissioners cited lengthy wording and ballot space as reasons to not include two questions previously approved for the ballot by the Albuquerque City Council. See the full story on why the county commission rejected the proposals here. Commission Chairman Art De La Cruz criticized the city council for not sending enough instructions to the county on how the questions would read on the ballot. “This is a city matter first and foremost,” De La Cruz, a Democrat, said.
An issue with the Albuquerque city charter that allowed a mayoral candidate to run for office without making it official could have been addressed months ago. Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta announced earlier this year she would run for mayor in 2017, but there was no way to file as an official candidate. Her campaign started fundraising about a year before the city filing process starts. During a city council meeting earlier this year, on May 2, Councilor Don Harris called to withdraw two bills he previously sponsored. One of the proposals included new language in the city charter that would update the definition of a candidate.
Because of a disagreement between the Albuquerque City Council and Bernalillo County Commission, it’s not clear which ballot initiative voters will get to vote on—or if either will even be on the ballot. During a Bernalillo County Commission meeting last week, commissioners did not discuss either of two recent ballot initiatives sent to them by the Albuquerque City Council. In fact, neither even appeared on the agenda. One initiative, prompted by a successful petition drive, would require some employers to provide sick leave to employees. The other would increase public campaign finance dollars to Albuquerque mayoral candidates.