City's sick leave question too long for ballot - Albuquerque Journal

City’s sick leave question too long for ballot

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Even at 19 inches, this year’s general-election ballot simply isn’t long enough to accommodate publishing the entire sick-leave ordinance proposed in Albuquerque, according to the county clerk’s office.

That’s a potential problem because the City Charter suggests the entire ordinance must go before voters, not just a summary or single-sentence question, city attorneys say.

But the ballot could probably handle one or two shorter municipal questions, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Tuesday, if city and county officials decide that’s an option.

The final decision, in any case, is up to the County Commission, and time is running out.

The ballots must be printed in early September, so Toulouse Oliver is asking commissioners to decide at their Aug. 23 meeting. She is consulting with the city clerk’s office this week about the exact language of the questions that city officials want to have added to the ballot.

The space crunch arises because city officials are asking the county to authorize at least two city questions for the general-election ballot, which is normally reserved for federal, state and county matters. The city has its own elections in odd-numbered years.

A coalition calling itself “Healthy Workforce ABQ” is proposing an ordinance that would require employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers. They gathered enough signatures in favor of the proposal to trigger a provision in the City Charter that allows people to get legislation on the ballot directly, bypassing the City Council.

But the next election is Nov. 8, and the ballot is controlled by the County Commission, not the city.

Besides the sick-leave ordinance, city councilors have asked the county to consider adding one other question – a proposal to increase the funding for mayoral candidates who opt into City Hall’s public financing system for campaigns.

Neither question is short. The public-financing proposition is about 165 words, and the sick-leave ordinance is more than 2,000 words, or about seven pages.

Both questions might fit on the ballot if shortening them is an option, Toulouse Oliver said.

There’s disagreement over whether that’s legal. City Councilor Don Harris this week broached the idea of placing just a summary of the sick-leave ordinance on the ballot and putting a copy of the entire propositions in each polling booth.

But City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said the City Charter mentions placing the “proposed measure” on the ballot, not a summary. That suggests that the full text is required, she said, and the city’s past practice has been to publish the full text.

The city asked voters last year for explicit permission to publish summaries rather than the full text, but the proposal failed.

County Commission Chairman Art De La Cruz, a Democrat, said the city needs to decide whether the full text or summary is needed. And councilors also need to say which question is a priority if only one of them can fit.

“I’m not calling that shot,” he said Tuesday in an interview.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson, a Republican and vice chairman of the commission, said he doesn’t see the sick-leave proposal having much chance to make the ballot.

“It wouldn’t be a legal and binding question anyway because there is not space for it,” he said. “I just don’t see it fitting in any way that would be legal under the City Charter.”

The ballot itself cannot be lengthened, Toulouse Oliver said. The printers used at polling places can only handle ballots up to 19 inches long, and the typeface is already down to an 8 point font.

“We literally cannot go up a ballot size,” she told commissioners in a letter, “and we would strongly discourage reducing the size of the font because it makes it very difficult to read.”

Supporters of the sick-leave campaign say their attorneys are reviewing the issue.

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