The Albuquerque City Council voted 8-1 late Monday night to withdraw a proposition that would have asked voters to decide whether the city would use ranked choice voting for municipal elections. Even if the council had sent the issue to voters, the city’s elections would not see a change until 2021.
After hearing from a few supporters of ranked choice voting, who expressed concern about educating voters ahead of November’s election, Councilor Don Harris, who sponsored the proposition, announced he was taking it off the table.
“I’ll probably just withdraw this,” Harris said just before the council was set to vote on the proposition. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Heather Ferguson told the council her organization is usually emphatically behind voter initiatives, but that there are too many misunderstandings about ranked choice voting and the proposed language for the ballot was too vague.
“Our main concern is we want an informed electorate,” Ferguson told the council.
Ranked choice voting, sometimes referred to as instant run-off voting, is a process in which voters rank their candidates. During the tallying process, candidates who come in last are eliminated, and the second-choice votes on those ballots are picked until a candidate reaches 50 percent. Until 2009, a candidate in Albuquerque’s municipal elections needed to get a simple majority.
Albuquerque could be the next city in the state to adopt a new way of voting in municipal elections, but a looming deadline doesn’t leave city councilors much time to make it happen. Ranked-choice voting, sometimes called instant-runoff voting, allows voters to rank their choices on a single ballot as opposed to only picking their number one candidate. Santa Fe held their first municipal instant-runoff election last year and about a dozen other municipalities across the U.S. use a similar voting method. A 2018 change to the state’s election law allows municipalities the option to move their elections to November in order to coincide with state elections, and the law also gives city leaders a chance to switch to an instant-runoff election system. Cutting it close
In 2018, then-Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Local Election Act into law.
Almost a year after the Albuquerque municipal election, a former city council candidate is suing his former opponent, who won the council seat. Byron Powdrell, who owns and operates a local, non-profit radio station, filed a lawsuit against City Councilor Don Harris and a private investigator hired by Harris during the 2017 mayoral and city council election season. Powdrell alleges Harris and private investigator Joe Fanseca published the radio station owner’s private information, including his Social Security number, to a campaign website aimed at disparaging Powdrell. The website, which was registered to an email address for Harris’ law firm, has since been taken down. Harris told NM Political Report he had no comment as he had not been served with the lawsuit at the time of publication.
An Albuquerque city councilor wants to take a crack at enforcing tougher restrictions on panhandling. Councilor Trudy Jones this week introduced a measure that would ban people from walking and standing in street medians and engaging with drivers and passengers from the sidewalk except in cases of emergencies. Jones’ proposed ordinance would also bar drivers from stopping in a street or intersection “for the sole purpose of interacting with any pedestrian” except in the case of an emergency. City law already bars people from soliciting on a street, highway, entrance or exit ramp for a ride or work. Loiterers are also currently banned from holding parking spaces for cars that are in the process of parking in exchange for money.
Potential candidates for Albuquerque City Council who aim to run using public funds are up against their first deadline later today. To qualify for the public financing, the city requires candidates to collect a certain number of $5 contributions, depending on how many people are registered to vote in the district. So far, about 60 percent of city council candidates are seeking public financing. Only one mayoral candidate qualified for public financing. Coming into the final day to collect the qualifying donations, about half of the city council hopefuls attempting to qualify for public financing are on track.
Nine candidates have qualified for the Albuquerque mayor ballot and more city races are gearing up, too. While many of the mayoral candidates unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for public financing, a majority of Albuquerque City Council candidates are now collecting $5 contributions with the hope of the same goal. Still, four council candidates have opted to instead raise money through private donations. At least two of them told NM Political Report they don’t think the public should pay for elections. Paul Ryan McKenney, an active member of the state’s Libertarian Party, said he sees public financing as tax dollars misused.
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.
As we have seen in the current presidential race and in recent local elections, big money still dominates the way we fund campaigns at all levels. From the Koch brothers spending millions in the Republican presidential primary to the Santolina developers spending tens of thousands in the recent Bernalillo County Commission Democratic primary, powerful wealthy individuals and organizations seek to influence elections by spending big money in campaigns. But we have a chance to reduce that influence in next year’s mayoral race. On an 8-1 vote, the Albuquerque City Council recently passed legislation to make the City’s public financing program workable again. Our thanks go to City Councilors Don Harris and Pat Davis* for reaching across the aisle to fix the current system, which was originally approved by about 69 percent of the voters in 2005.
Monday evening, the Albuquerque City Council sent a sick leave ballot initiative to Bernalillo County officials with a request that it go to voters in November. If enacted, the initiative, spearheaded by the Healthy Workforce ABQ coalition, would require businesses with 40 or fewer employees to provide workers with 40 hours of paid sick leave each year. Businesses with more than 40 employees would be required to provide workers 56 hours of paid sick leave each year. City Councilor Trudy Jones took a moment to remind members of the public that the Council had no authority to completely strike down the bill. “We cannot vote against this and defeat it,” Jones said.
The next time to you go to a city event that sells beer you might see beers from Marble, Boese Brothers or La Cumbre alongside Bud Light and Corona. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry signed legislation that would encourage local beer at local events. It would not encourage sales at events that don’t already have beer sales, but instead encourage those that already have beer sales to use beer from local breweries. City councilor Don Harris introduced the legislation last month and the council passed the legislation on Nov. 2 on a unanimous vote.