Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Election season opens at City Hall today – setting up a three-week sprint that will shape the City Council and decide the fate of a proposed tax increase for the BioPark.
The ballot also includes about $126 million in bond questions and a proposal to change how the police chief is hired.
Starting at 9 this morning, Albuquerque voters can cast ballots at a dozen early voting locations. Election Day is Oct. 6.
Voters in the two contested City Council races – District 4 in the Northeast Heights and District 6 in the Southeast Heights – will find a slate of candidates that skews young. Three of the five candidates are in their 20s, the youngest just 22.
The outcome will determine whether Democrats maintain their 5-4 edge on the council – a slim margin that allows Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, to veto legislation that passes along party lines.
Absentee voting started Sept. 1, and City Clerk Natalie Howard said the volume of absentee-ballot activity is lighter at this point in the election cycle than it has been in the past.
And that’s saying something, as only about 12 percent of city voters turned out in 2011 and about 20 percent in 2013, when the mayor’s office headed the ballot.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., the company that handles surveys for the Journal, said the results are harder to predict in a municipal election that draws such light voter turnout. But the environment should favor well-organized candidates who succeed in getting their supporters to the polls.
“The lower the turnout, the more unpredictable the outcomes can be,” he said. “You can have a district that’s very liberal that can vote to the contrary if turnout patterns are disrupted and vice versa.”
Howard is hoping voters will visit the early voting locations, which operate from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Oct. 2.
Voters are not tied to any particular polling location. They can visit any of the early voting sites or 53 locations open on Election Day.
Photo identification is required at polling places. Unlike state elections, the city of Albuquerque requires in-person voters to show a driver’s license, student ID or similar card with their name and photo.
City Council races
Four of the nine City Council seats are on the ballot. Two of the races are contested.
Democrats could win a 6-3 advantage – enough to override a mayoral veto – by defeating incumbent Republican Brad Winter in District 4, though it’s a conservative-leaning district that favors the GOP, analysts say. District 4 covers the far Northeast Heights.
Winter, 63, who has served on the council since 2000, faces Israel Chavez, 23, a Democrat.
Republicans, meanwhile, have a chance to flip the council in their favor if Winter wins re-election and a Republican wins the open seat in District 6, where Democrat Rey Garduño plans to retire. That district, however, covers some of Albuquerque’s most liberal neighborhoods and has elected Democrats over the last 12 years.
The district covers the Southeast Heights and Nob Hill.
Three candidates are running for the open seat created by Garduño’s retirement. The candidates are Democrats Pat Davis, 37, and Sam Kerwin, 22; and Republican Hess “Hessito” Yntema, 28.
Yntema’s father, also a Republican, served two terms representing the area.
“Holding all things equal, that district goes more for the progressive candidates,” Sanderoff said. “In this case, Hess Yntema has to be seen as a more formidable opponent than the Democrat would normally have to confront.”
Incumbents Isaac Benton, a Democrat, and Trudy Jones, a Republican, are running unopposed.
Albuquerque elections are nonpartisan, meaning party labels don’t appear on the ballot. If no one gets a majority of the vote in District 6, a runoff election will be held in November between the top two candidates.
A tax increase
The ballot also includes a proposal to increase the gross receipts tax rate by one-eighth of a percent. It would add about 13 cents on a $100 purchase.
The tax would generate about $17 million a year to pay for repairs, new exhibits and other capital needs at the zoo, aquarium and other BioPark attractions.
If approved, the new tax would remain in place for 15 years.
The tax rate in Albuquerque would climb from 7.1875 percent to 7.3125 percent in July next year.
Hiring police, fire chiefs
A proposed City Charter amendment would make the mayor’s appointment of police and fire chiefs subject to City Council approval. Right now, the chiefs are hired and fired by the mayor, like most city department heads.
Dozen bond questions
Voters will consider about $119 million in general-obligation bonds – the largest chunk of which is nearly $34 million for street repairs and road projects.
The city presents its general-obligation bond program to voters every two years. This year’s package is broken into 11 questions on the ballot.
There’s no need for a tax increase to support the bonds, even if voters approval all 11 questions, officials say.
In addition to the main bond package, the city is seeking permission to take $6.5 million from previously approved bonds and earmark the money for metropolitan redevelopment.
A proposal to amend the City Charter would eliminate the need for some special elections.
Under the current system, the city must hold an election within 90 days when a petition drive succeeds in gathering enough signatures to propose legislation.
The charter amendment, however, calls for the legislation to just go before voters during the next regularly scheduled election.
Another charter proposal is intended to save space on the ballot. It would eliminate a requirement that the complete text of proposed charter amendments appear on the ballot. Instead, only the title and summary would have to be published.