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BernCo again denies Democracy Dollars initiative

Members of the public speaking to Bernalillo County commissioners during a special meeting called Tuesday said it was not the commissioners’ job to judge the merits of the “Democracy Dollars” question before placing it on the November general election ballot. Others told commissioners they should let the voters get their say on the question.

“I was proud of New Mexico when we got the paper ballot, which ensured the integrity of our elections,” said Ann Dunlap, a former mayor of Corrales now living in Albuquerque. “I was proud when we got public financing and allowed candidates to make their way through the political process without having to beg large corporations or wealthy individuals for money. What I’d like to be proud of after this commission closes this meeting tonight is to be able to say, ‘Yes, the commissioners are going to put this on the ballot.’ ”

However, two of the commissioners told the mostly partisan crowd in attendance that it just wasn’t that simple.

After about 90 minutes of public comment, the Bernalillo County Commission voted against the placement of the Democracy Dollars initiative on the November general election ballot.

The measure was denied for a second time with Commissioners Maggie Hart Stebbins and Debbie O’Malley voting in favor, and Commissioners Steven Michael Quezada and James Smith voting against. The motion failed for a lack of a majority. Commissioner Lonnie Talbert was not in attendance.

This comes after the measure to place the question on the November general election ballot failed by a 3-2 vote by Bernalillo County commissioners last week.

The Democracy Dollars initiative is a proposal that would allow registered voters in the city of Albuquerque $25 in coupons to contribute to a publicly funded candidate of their choice.

During last week’s meeting, commissioners expressed concerns about the proposal, especially how the coupons would be distributed, used and tracked.

On Tuesday, commissioners expressed those same concerns – and a few more.

Smith said the question, which in addition to the $25 coupons also proposes a change in the date of the city election and increases the amount for mayoral candidates under the public finance system to $1.75 per voter, is an example of “logrolling,” where different issues are placed on the same ballot question.

“I believe it’s going to be challenged in court,” Smith said. “And I believe the county will be under a liability issue if we do pass this because it does, in fact, have three different questions. I would be happy to split the three questions that are actually on this ordinance and we could have voted on those individually, but we couldn’t do that because it came to us as one particular petition.”

Quezada said he was concerned about other ballot initiatives already planned for the November ballot “that are extremely important” to his district.

“I’m afraid that this is going to be caught up in the mud with everything else,” Quezada said. “It could be a controversial part of the election and people may just vote ‘no’ to everything or maybe they will vote ‘yes’ to everything. But am I willing to take that risk for my constituents and for the things that we’re trying to do in the South Valley?”

It was not immediately clear whether the city will be forced to hold a special election on the initiative before Jan. 15, 2019, based on local election law. The Albuquerque City Charter specifies that special elections must occur either 70 days before or after a general election.

If the measure had passed, Albuquerque voters would have considered a City Charter amendment adding Democracy Dollars to the city’s election code.

The proposal would also 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.