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.
As early voting enters its final week, roughly 300,000 people have already cast ballots, nearly 260,000 through early voting. These numbers, as of close of polls Saturday, come from the Secretary of State’s office. Early voting was not open Sunday, and the final day of early voting will be Saturday. Absentee ballots must be returned by close of polls on Tuesday to be valid. The new numbers show Democrats maintaining a solid lead over Republicans, but declining.
Bernalillo County has the most residents and the most registered voters in the state—but right now, Doña Ana County has the most voters who have cast ballots early. That is according to numbers from Tuesday morning from both counties, two counties with a number of key legislative races and the two counties with the largest number of registered voters, as of Sept. 30. In Doña Ana County, 6,639 people voted early, as of 11:45 a.m. compared to 4,293 voters in Bernalillo County who cast their votes early as of approximately the same time. That is 6 percent of registered voters in Doña Ana County and 1 percent of registered voters in Bernalillo County.
A high profile ballot proposal that would require businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees will likely not be on the ballot this November. A district judge in Albuquerque ruled Monday county commissioners legally have the discretion to deny ballot access to city initiatives during general elections. Second Judicial District Judge Alan Malott told a courtroom packed with advocates both for and against the paid sick leave initiative that he would not order the Bernalillo County Commission to add the proposal to the November general election ballot. “The county cannot be forced to include the proposed ordinance,” Malott said. Malott also ruled the full text of the order must be on the ballot when it does go in front of voters, which is likely in 2017.
New Mexicans are headed to the polls on election day —and it appears voters are out in full force in some of the state’s most populous counties. In Bernalillo County, more than 1,000 voters turned out within 15 minutes of the polls opening. A spokesman for the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office said within the first hour, voting convenience centers saw about 4,000 voters overall. As of 11:00 a.m., four hours after voting convenience centers opened, 14,275 votes were cast in Bernalillo County. Bernalillo County has also received 222 returned absentee ballots.
Democrats seem more motivated to get out the vote in Bernalillo County, if early voting numbers headed toward the end of early voting are any indication. Out of 33,812 voters who cast their ballots early in the county, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said 70 percent are Democrats, while 30 percent are Republicans. The turnout is much bigger than the last presidential election year. “That’s almost twice as many as we had as of the same time period in 2012,” Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report. Bernalillo County is the most populous county in the state.
The New Mexico Supreme Court has approved changes to a court order relating to time limits for criminal trials in Bernalillo County. The order, known as the case management order or CMO, was made to speed up trials in the Second Judicial District amid arguments that felony cases weren’t being tried on time. Among rules the CMO imposes are that criminal investigations must go to trial or be finished within six months, or, if a case is sufficiently complex, up to a year. Both the Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg have criticized time limits from the CMO, arguing that they don’t provide enough time to try cases. They have blamed the CMO for releasing offenders who are quickly again arrested.
The Second Judicial District Attorney and Albuquerque Police Department chief told members of the New Mexico Supreme Court Tuesday that a court order on time limits for trials needed to be changed. The comments came during a meeting on the case management order (CMO) from the Supreme Court to those in Bernalillo County. Among those giving feedback on the CMO were Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado. The high court previously mandated the CMO amid concern that Bernalillo County wasn’t prosecuting felony cases fast enough as jails overcrowded. Among its changes are a mandate that arraignment comes 10 days after either an indictment, arrest or filing of criminal information of a case—whatever comes last.
Former Speaker of the House Ken Martinez will not run for reelection in 2016 after taking a position with Bernalillo County on Friday. While Martinez will leave the Legislature, he will not exactly be retiring. The Bernalillo County Commission voted to offer Martinez the job of county attorney, which he accepted. Martinez, however, will not resign, which means Gov. Susana Martinez will not be able to pick a replacement ahead of this year’s legislative session. “After much prayer, consideration, and family consultation—especially with my granddaughter—I have decided not to run for reelection to another term of service in the New Mexico House of Representatives,” Martinez said in a statement on Friday. “I couldn’t be prouder of the opportunity I’ve had to serve the people of New Mexico alongside my dear friends in the House Democratic Caucus.”
New Mexico has been giving marriage certificates to same-sex couples since 2013, after a state Supreme Court decision said that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage certificates to same-sex couples. New Mexico was the 17th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Nationwide, same-sex marriage only became legal earlier this year after a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The opposition to the same-sex marriage has been signified by a county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail rather than give marriage certificates to same-sex couples. A federal judge ruled Kim Davis in contempt of court for failing to give such certificates despite numerous court rulings that said government workers cannot deny certificates to same-sex couples.