Damn, these ballots are long. Right when you think you’re done, there’s a bunch of judges, and then you’ve still got half a page of bonds and constitutional amendments and, shudder, advisory questions which, who even knows what those are?
If you’re like me, you probably harbor some secret guilt about the fact that every once in a while you come to a part of the ballot that you just don’t get, whether because the language is confusing or because you just hadn’t considered the issue prior to entering the booth. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve been known to close your eyes and stab your pencil randomly at the page until enough boxes are filled in that you’ve, er, “done your civic duty” by voting on things you don’t know anything about. And you realize that is a shameful, kind of fun, but seriously shameful practice.
This year, we at the Alibi are going to help you put an end to that embarrassing tradition by giving you a little heads up on what to expect when the nice old lady at the senior center hands you a page covered in small print. When you come face to face with those amendments, bonds and advisories, you’ll know what’s up, thanks to your friends at the Weekly Alibi!
Fortunately, some of these items are crystal clear in their intention and result, or come down to minor changes in procedure. All of the bond questions and mill levies require a little reading but boil down to whether or not you’d like to see the state or county spend some dough on libraries, senior centers, roads, that sort of thing. You can handle these.
However, the constitutional amendments are a different matter. Several of these are either written in an obtuse manner or deal with a subject likely to be obscure to the average voter.
Constitutional Amendment 1, for instance, appears obvious, but is actually very confusing. The question asks the voter to approve changing the constitution so “school elections shall be held at different times from partisan elections.” Despite the language, this would actually loosen restrictions on school elections. Currently, they must be held on a different date than any other election, a peculiar remnant from a time when New Mexican women were only allowed to vote on school issues and thus clearly had to be kept out of the voting booth when the men-folk were deciding the “more important” elections. Nearly 100 years after women’s suffrage was ratified at the federal level, our state constitution still upholds this anachronism, which has caused voter turnout for school elections to often be much lower than for other elections. This amendment would still require the elections be held on a different date than “partisan elections,” but would at least allow the date to be combined with municipal ballots like city council and bond elections.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ve been known to close your eyes and stab your pencil randomly at the page until enough boxes are filled in that you’ve, er, “done your civic duty” by voting on things you don’t know anything about. And you realize that is a shameful, kind of fun, but seriously shameful practice.
Amendment 4 would “allow certain counties to become urban counties and to clarify the vote needed to adopt a county charter.” So what’s an “urban county”? An urban county, and it’s important to note that there currently aren’t any, would be able to run its own affairs with more autonomy than the state constitution currently allows. These urban counties would essentially behave something like a city in terms of the powers they would have.
There’s only one county in New Mexico that currently has this kind of “home rule” autonomy, and it’s Los Alamos County by special dispensation. A previous constitutional amendment allows Bernalillo County to vote on becoming an “urban county” and elect a council and so forth, but no other county in New Mexico, regardless of size and population, is permitted. Ever. This amendment would make it so that any county under 1,500 square miles and with a population greater than 300,000 would be eligible.
Amendment 5 would “preserve the land grant permanent funds by increasing the duty of care, removing restrictions on the type of investments that may be made and increasing the threshold amount for additional distributions.”
Oh man, land grants, investments, permanent funds? This isn’t exactly the marijuana advisory question in terms of excitement and controversy, is it? The land grant permanent fund is made up of money paid to the state through leases and otherwise generated from non-renewable resources, especially oil and gas reserves. This fund provides a huge amount of cash to New Mexico’s public schools and universities, and a certain portion of it is invested by the state. This proposed amendment would allow the state to invest a greater portion of the fund in foreign investments while simultaneously raising the amount of money that must be kept in the fund from $5.8 billion to $10 billion, the idea being that these two measures would allow for greater diversification while also providing a greater hedge against volatility. The cons to this one come down to a question of whether allowing greater leeway in these investments will have long-term consequences.
Advisory Question 1 asks “Are you in favor of the Bernalillo County Commission supporting county, city and statewide efforts to decriminalize possession of one ounce or less of marijuana?”
This, of course, is the big one; the question that everyone has been talking about. Given its incredibly convoluted path to the ballot—having been added and removed more often than a pothead flips cable channels—you’d think that a vote in favor of this question was about to put a Thai stick in the hands of every able bodied adult in New Mexico. But actually, the results of this vote won’t have any legal standing either way; a majority vote in favor or against will provide some propaganda ammunition to either supporters or detractors, but that’s it.
Advisory Question 2 reads “Are you in favor of the Bernalillo County Commission establishing a one-eighth percent gross receipts tax to be used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area, to provide a safety net system that develops continuum of care not otherwise funded in New Mexico?”
Again, this question is advisory only, meaning that a vote for or against won’t impact policy directly, except in the sense that one side or another will score a minor propaganda victory. This question essentially exists because of the drama and chaos surrounding mental health services in New Mexico over the past year or so. In late 2012 the Martinez administration launched a statewide audit of mental health service providers that resulted in some disturbing allegations of fraud. As a side effect of many of these organizations being shut down, it became more difficult for those in need to obtain services. This question asks if voters would be willing to increase their taxes in order to help remedy that.