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Editorial: Justices, Bernco opened this ballot box of Pandoras

As things stand now, it would appear a majority of the Bernalillo County Commission and the New Mexico Supreme Court have transformed elections in the Land of Enchantment from a Decision Day into a game of 20 Questions that don’t matter.

Look no further than Chaves County, where that commission, relying on the high court’s decision last week regarding Bernalillo County’s advisory ballot questions, is proposing not one but five nonbinding poll questions. On Nov. 4 they could know if voters are in favor of the Chaves County Commission enacting:

  1. A right-to-work ordinance to make the county “more competitive for jobs and create economic opportunities for existing and future businesses.”
  2. A voter ID ordinance requiring voters to “present a photo ID to protect the integrity of the ballot.”
  3. An ordinance permitting “the concealed carry of handguns within (the) county.”
  4. An ordinance “eliminating the public works minimum wage requirement on all projects within the county.”
  5. An amendment to the vermin ordinance to prohibit “harboring, releasing, transporting and raising wolves within Chaves County, as wolves are a threat to livestock and children.”

These questions, like Bernalillo County’s decriminalizing marijuana and adding a tax for unspecified aid for the mentally ill, are merely advisory and mean zilch – other than a transparent attempt to fire up a particular political base. It’s worth noting that:

  • Right-to-work laws are historically enacted by states.
  • New Mexico already allows concealed carry.
  • Public Works wages are set at the federal and state levels.
  • The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program is run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • The federal and state governments have strict penalties for marijuana on the books.

In any county it’s a waste of time as well as a false promise to voters to ask them weigh in on topics that have not been adequately vetted, are superfluous or are not in the purview of local government – especially when their opinions won’t matter anyway.

When Secretary of State Dianna Duran sought to block the “advisory questions” and limit the ballot to real issues, Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil noted during oral arguments that state law allowing “Other Questions” could be read very broadly. That turned out to be a major understatement.

Under this decision, every Election Day in New Mexico has the potential to deliver more disenchantment with the democratic process. On the other hand, as Bernalillo County Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley says, “Let the people speak.”

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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