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‘Democracy Dollars’ ballot initiative fails

A measure to add a “Democracy Dollars” initiative on the November general election ballot failed by a 3-2 vote by Bernalillo County commissioners on Tuesday.

Democrat Steven Quezada and Republicans Lonnie Talbert and James Smith voted against adding the question on the November ballot, which is under county responsibility.

If passed, Albuquerque voters would have had their say on a City Charter amendment that would add “Democracy Dollars” to the city’s election code.

Under the proposal, registered city voters and voting-eligible residents would use the $25 Democracy Dollars coupons to contribute to their choice of qualified candidates. The candidates would then redeem the dollars with the city clerk, up to a limit, for funds to spend in support of their campaigns.

A minimum of 19,480 signatures from registered city voters were required on the petition for ballot placement and consideration by commissioners. Election advocates had submitted a petition with more than 28,000 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office.

“We’re really disappointed that the county commission decided to take an action tonight that was against the wishes and will of 28,000 of their constituents,” said Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. “Every single one of the residents of Albuquerque are their constituents here in the county, and that was silencing their voices. It was incredibly disappointing to hear.”

The proposal would have directed the Albuquerque City Council to establish an ordinance providing for issuance and redemption of the coupons and change the date for municipal elections from its usual October date to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November on odd-numbered years.

Commissioners expressed concerns about the proposal, especially about how the coupons would be tracked, used and distributed.

“I think that public financing is important, especially to Democrats who don’t have access to a lot of dollars,” Quezada said after the meeting. “I think we need to look at how that’s done and how that’s structured. There were too many holes. I had too many questions, and why am I making a decision that the city councilors aren’t doing? I hate to throw them under the bus, but really, this is their decision. I feel bad because (the election advocates) worked really hard, and I’m sad that it’s going to be further down the road, but we still have public financing in place.”

Nearly 70 percent of Albuquerque voters approved a public financing system in 2005, which allowed participating candidates to receive a stipend if they agreed to not accept private contributions. Under the system, City Council candidates who take public financing receive $1 per voter in their district, usually around $30,000 to $45,000. Mayoral candidates get about $380,000.

Under a successful City Charter amendment, the amount for mayoral candidates would have increased to $1.75 per voter.

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