Special election costs big bucks

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — The city of Albuquerque is mailing out special election ballots to voters tomorrow.

The ballots have just one issue on them, asking voters whether to change the way mayors get elected.

It will cost the city $600,000 it hadn’t planned for.

Special elections are so rare the city doesn’t budget for them, but anyone can gather enough signatures to get any issue on a ballot within 90 days.

One group did and now taxpayers are on the hook.

“These sort of special elections - especially these citizen initiatives, like this one  - they're not really something we expect,” said City Clerk Amy Bailey.

Bailey says the last stand-alone, citizen-driven special election was for the Isotopes Stadium in 2001.

The city decided the cheapest way to hold this citizen-driven election was by mail-only, saving costs for things like locations and voting booths.

But mail-only elections have their own costs: not just for postage, but for things like equipment and personnel to count and sort the ballots.

All told, the city will be hit with an unexpected cost of more than $500,000.

“It is a lot of money and it certainly sounds like a lot of money but again it is less expensive than having an in person election,” Bailey said. 

The money is coming straight out of the city’s reserve fund.

“According to our charter, we have to do this election and we have to find that money,” said City Councilor Dan Lewis. “It's going to come at the expense of other important things that the taxpayers need to pay for.”

Lewis says the city charter could be changed, to require more petition signatures or that a citizen-driven initiative gets tacked onto the next regularly scheduled election.

“There are unintended consequences to just about every policy that's put into place,” he said. “I think the people of Albuquerque are going to have to consider this and decide whether it's worth that kind of money that we don't budget for to be able to do things like this.”

The special election comes on the heels of the APS school board election, which cost taxpayers another $500,000. Those elections couldn’t be combined because of a state law that says school board elections have to stand alone.

The Bernalillo County Clerk’s office is proposing to change the state’s constitution so that those kinds of elections can be combined in the future.

The special election ballots will be hitting mailboxes of registered voters in Albuquerque in the next few days.

Voters will decide whether to require a runoff election for mayoral candidates who receive less than 50 percent of the vote.

Those ballots are due back by March 11.


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