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Abortion limits may miss ballot

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

The initiative to restrict abortions in Albuquerque may not make the Oct. 8 ballot after all, even if election workers certify that it has enough signatures.

City Clerk Amy Bailey said Friday she would need an election resolution from the City Council in time to publish legal notices on Aug. 20.

But her office has until Sept. 6 to finish verifying whether supporters of the initiative submitted the required 12,091 signatures. As of Friday afternoon, her office had validated about 3,290 signatures, and Bailey said it wasn’t clear when the work would be done.

Further complicating matters, the council has only two meetings scheduled this month – Monday, when no election resolution is on the agenda, and Aug. 19, which might be too late to get the legal notices published in time by the next day.

City Council President Dan Lewis said the abortion ordinance, if the signatures are certified, might go to voters in November. That’s when the city has tentatively planned a runoff election for races in which no candidate gets a majority of the vote in the Oct. 8 election.

There’s also a separate initiative under way – to change the minimum-wage ordinance – so it might make sense to combine that one with the abortion initiative on one ballot, he said.

“I think that’s where it’s headed,” Lewis said. “If the timing is right, I think it would be ideal for a runoff election and two questions.”

Tara Shaver, a spokeswoman for the abortion initiative, said her group turned in its first batch of signatures July 18 and the last one on July 25 – almost 27,000 altogether. The goal was to get them to the city in time to make the already scheduled Oct. 8 city election ballot, she said.

But she said her group isn’t opposed to putting the question before voters at a different date.

“The main thing we want to see is, we want to see it on a ballot,” Shaver said.

City Councilor Isaac Benton said he considered asking the council on Monday to adopt a resolution putting the abortion initiative on the Oct. 8 ballot, contingent on the verification of signatures at a later date. The goal was to avoid the need for a special election that could cost $500,000 to $700,000, he said.

Benton dropped the idea after talking to two other councilors.

“It’s one of the issues people don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole,” he said.

Benton said he opposes the content of the proposal but wanted to save money by avoiding a special election.

It’s not clear whether the minimum-wage petition will end up with enough signatures to make the ballot.

The abortion initiative would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions if the life of the pregnant woman is in danger.

The issue has surfaced in the mayor’s race in recent weeks, prompting all three candidates to weigh in. The two Republicans in the race, incumbent Richard Berry and retired police Sgt. Paul Heh, said they’d vote for the measure if it’s on the ballot. Pete Dinelli, a Democrat and former prosecutor, said he’s opposed.

There’s been plenty of speculation at City Hall about how the abortion initiative might shape the election.

Brian Sanderoff of Research & Polling Inc., which does surveys for the Journal , said the proposal is bound to draw extra voters to the polls, though it’s an open question whether that would help or hurt the mayor’s re-election chances.

“I think something like this could increase turnout,” Sanderoff said. “Abortion is a very emotional issue.”

On the one hand, the measure might trigger intense opposition from younger or left-leaning voters, he said. On the other, it could push churchgoing voters to the polls if the Catholic Church and others take interest.

“Both groups have the potential to mobilize,” Sanderoff said.

Berry, who had a 68 percent approval rating in a Journal poll last year, might have the most to lose.

“Someone who’s ahead in a race, in the polls, they would rather the election stay stable and quiet, with no surprises,” Sanderoff said.

Bailey said she has four election clerks checking signatures, plus other staff when they can be spared. “We are actively checking the signatures daily,” she said.

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