The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After abortion vote, Albuquerque looks to change initiative process

Signs advocating for and against a late-term abortion ban hang on a fence outside of a voting site at Eisenhower Middle School in Albuquerque, N.M., Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 Juan Antonio Labreche/AP)

In just the last year, Albuquerque voters have been asked to weigh in on the minimum wage, abortion rights and the city’s runoff elections. Now, the mayor and several council members say those initiatives are costing the city too much money.

Mayor Richard Berry (R) told the Albuquerque Journal last week he wants to see a citywide discussion on amending the city’s charter, including the number of signatures required to get an initiative on the ballot and how quickly the city must hold an election after a proposed initiative qualifies.

Supporters of any given initiative must collect about 12,000 valid signatures — 20 percent of the average turnout in the last four municipal elections — within 60 days to qualify for the ballot. Once an initiative qualifies for the ballot, the city must hold an election within 90 days, an expensive proposition at a time when cities are squeezing their budgets ever tighter.

The three ballot initiatives that have qualified in the past year have cost Albuquerque $1.2 million. The city has an $870 million annual budget.

City leaders worry the money they spend on special elections might be wasted. The way the minimum wage increase was written, for example, would have put the onus on both employees and the city attorney to enforce the higher wage, leading to confusion — and almost certain litigation.

The ACLU had threatened to sue over new abortion restrictions if city voters hadn’t rejected them earlier this month; that litigation would have cost the city big bucks to defend a law that has been struck down by other courts.

City councilor Ken Sanchez told the paper he wants to see a legal-review committee that would examine whether initiatives are valid before they reach the ballot. Sanchez and councilor Brad Winter are working on proposed changes to the initiative process.