Bernalillo County attorneys today will file a petition with the state Supreme Court for emergency action to add two nonbinding advisory questions to the Nov. 4 ballot.
One question asks voters whether they support decriminalizing possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, the other asks voters their opinion on whether the county should raise taxes to fund mental-health services.
The County Commission voted 3-2 along party lines this morning to authorize legal action to get the questions on the ballot, with Democrats in the majority. Their move comes after Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, refused to add the questions to the ballot.
Duran said state law and the state constitution don’t permit putting advisory questions on the ballot. She compared them to opinion polls because neither question would enact a law or tax. Instead, they just ask for voters’ opinions, and it would be up to the county or other governments to take follow-up action, if they so choose.
Bernalillo County attorneys contend Duran doesn’t have authority to determine what goes on the ballot. Furthermore, they believe it’s legal to put advisory questions before voters.
County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, meanwhile, told commissioners this morning that there’s room on the ballot for the two extra questions. Adding them won’t increase election costs, she said.
County commissioners met in closed session first thing in the morning today to discuss their legal strategy. They held a meeting open to the public afterward to authorize the county attorney to take legal action.
County Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley said it wasn’t right for the state government to try “swooping in” to tell a local government what it can or can’t do.
“We have, I think, interference from the state level,” O’Malley said. “That, to me, is a real, fundamental problem.”
O’Malley joined fellow Democrats Maggie Hart Stebbins and Art De La Cruz in favor of legal action. Opposed were Republicans Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert.
Johnson read from a California Supreme Court opinion that recently knocked a nonbinding question from the state ballot there. In that case, a justice said the law in California doesn’t allow for the polling of the electorate, which is at odds with the purpose of the representative democracy form of government.
“It’s important,” Johnson said, “the public understands what we’re really talking about here is the process of government (and) the games we can play with the system.”
Hart Stebbins responded to Johnson with a rhetorical question, “Do we live in California?”
O’Malley said the New Mexico attorney general has already said it’s legal to put advisory questions on the ballot.
“We’ve done our homework,” she said.
Original Article By: Dan McKay- Journal Staff Writer