Editorial: Botched question on stadium bond worth a yellow card - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Botched question on stadium bond worth a yellow card

A distraught voter called the Journal last week.

He had voted at one of Albuquerque’s early voting sites and says he had checked all the boxes in favor of 12 city bond questions on the ballot. But when he double-checked his work he noticed the question about the soccer stadium initially asks voters if the city should finance a multiuse public stadium with up to $50 million of gross receipt tax revenue bonds. However, the oval boxes — where you mark your vote regarding the stadium — ask if you are in favor of issuing general obligation bonds.

The voter said he typically supports GO bonds but not necessarily GRT revenue bonds, so he switched his vote to “against” the stadium bond question.

One can only wonder how many other voters have been/will be confused by the inconsistent language. The Journal broke the botched-ballot story Oct. 20 — 15 days after in-person absentee voting began at the county clerk’s annex and clerks began mailing absentee ballots, and four days after 19 early voting convenience centers opened across the city.

The Journal Editorial Board has said the stadium proposal isn’t ready for prime time. We had no idea the ballot question itself wasn’t either.

But if you listen to local officials, it’s no big deal — just a misprint on a ballot question that only carries “advisory” status anyway.

“The question on the ballot as written does not pose a legal issue because it will advise the city regarding the voter’s perspective on whether the city should issue bonds to build a multi-use stadium,” City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. told the Journal.

So, if voters fill in the oval “for general obligation bonds” it really means they’re in favor of using up to $50 million of “gross receipts tax revenue bonds” to finance the proposed stadium?

GO and GRT bonds are entirely different financing mechanisms. GO bonds are paid off with property taxes. GRT bonds are paid off with taxes assessed on the sale of goods and services. GRT bonds, unlike GO bonds, do not technically require voter approval; that’s why it’s more of an advisory question.

Mayor Tim Keller’s administration has said it would pursue a GRT bond for the stadium only if voters approve the ballot question. Would approval of a flawed question meet that test? The error might not matter to some, but it did cause the Journal caller to change his vote.

Bernalillo County Attorney Ken Martinez says it’s likely too late to correct the ballot because voting is underway. He says the error is likely because GRT bonds are very unusual whereas ballot templates for GO bond questions are common.

Whether the ballot question is advisory or obligatory, it’s fundamentally flawed — and another consequence of a rushed process. There’s no real way to know the true intent of voters on the stadium question with the inconsistent ballot language.

The whole Local Election ballot is, in fact, confusing. Lines separate most questions from the responses. Someone could have spent a few minutes making it more user-friendly, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

It’s too late to do anything about it now, but there’s a lesson here for Mayor Keller and Bernalillo County, which is in charge of the election: When you unveil a multimillion-dollar proposal just three months before early voting, you’d better have all your ducks — and questions — in a row if you want voters to understand what they are weighing in on and to fill in the correct blanks.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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