Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton: “It’s My Job To Make Sure I Win!”; Rank Voting And Public Finance Favors Incumbents

Since the enactment of the City Charter creating Albuquerque’s Mayor/City Council form of government, municipal elections have been held every two years in odd-number years in October on the first Tuesday, with run offs held six weeks later and the winner sworn in on December 1 after the runoff.

During the 2018 legislative session, the New Mexico legislature enacted the Local Election Act which went into effect July 1, 2018. The Local Election Act requires municipalities like Albuquerque to either move their municipal elections to a consolidated local election in November of odd-numbered years or hold non-consolidated elections in March of even-numbered years. On November 19, 2018, the Albuquerque City Council unanimously approved a measure moving Albuquerque’s municipal elections from October to November of an election year to comply with the Local Election Act. The November election date also moves municipal runoff elections to December and term starting dates to January.

The 2019 election is the first time the city is holding a combined election with other local government agencies under the Local Election Act. Albuquerque’s municipal city council and the city’s bond election will be held on November 5, 2019 along with the Albuquerque Public School Board Election and its bond and mill levy request. The office of mayor is not up for election this year.

There are 4 City Council positions that will be on the November 5, 2019 ballot. Districts on the November ballot are Districts 2, 4, 6, and 8. Democrats Benton and Davis and Republican Jones are running to get elected to another term while Republican Brad Winter has announced he will not seek another term.

RANK VOTING NOW BEING PROPOSED

The municipal election is scheduled on November 5, 2019. The process to collect qualifying $5 donations for “public financing” and required nominating signatures from register voters has already begun. Democrat Albuquerque City Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Republican City Councilor Brad Winter are seeking to make major changes to the municipal election code by changing the current election rules from a “primary and run off system” to a single “ranked-choice voting” system. Such a voting process would eliminate a runoff election and the costs associated with a runoff. The change in the election code would apply to this year’s City Council race and all future city council races and the race for Mayor.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1317794/abq-councilors-push-for-ranked-choice-voting.html

CANDIDATES FOR CITY COUNCIL

District 2 City Councilor Isaac Benton, has 5 opponents seeking to replace him and they are Steve Baca (D), Joseph Griego (D), Robert Raymond Blanquera Nelson (D), Zack Quintero, (D) and Connie Vigil, (R). All candidates in District 2 are seeking public financing. Incumbent Isaac Benton has already secured the required number of qualifying $5 donations.

District 4 has 5 candidates running to replace Brad Winter. Those candidates are: Brook L. Bassen, Athena Ann Christodoulou, Mary Sue Flynt, Ane C. Romero, Haley Josselyn Roy. All 5 candidates in District 4 are seeking public financing.

District 6 City Councilor Pat Davis has only one challenger and she is Gina Naomi Dennis (D) who is an attorney, neighborhood activists and who was a Bernie Sanders delegate in 2016 to the Democratic National convention.

District 8 City Councilor Trudy Jones has only one challenger and she is S. Maurreen Skowan who is public financing. Jones has elected to finance her campaign with private financing.

CURRENT ELECTION PROCESS

Currently, under Albuquerque’s charter, a candidate for city councilor or mayor must receive at least 50% plus 1 of the vote to win an election without a run off outright. If no candidate receives 50% plus one of the vote, the top two finishers face off in a separate runoff election and whoever gets the 50% majority vote wins the election. Candidates for Mayor and City Council must also submit nominating petitions with signatures of registered city voters.

The 2019 municipal election process is already underway with the City of Albuquerque’s Municipal election to be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. Debates are being held by neighborhood associations. There are a total of 15 candidates running for city council in the 4 city council seats that will be on the November 5, 2019 ballot.

QUALIFYING CONTRIBUTIONS

Only one month is given to candidates running for city council to collect $5.00 qualifying donations to the city in order to secure public financing. The qualifying period is May 1, 2019, to May 31, 2019 to collect the $5.00 donations to secure public financing. $1 per registered voter in a City Council District is given to candidates who qualify for public finance. Once qualified, the candidate must agree to the amount as being the only money, or cap, they can spend on their campaign. The number of $5.00 donations needed in each city council district to qualify for public financing are as follows: In District 2, 413, in District 4, 393, in District 6, 323 and in District 8, 425. The $5.00 donations are made to the city and must come from registered voters in each district.

As of May 24, 2019, with only one week left to collect qualifying donations, only incumbent Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton in all 4 City Council District has collected the required number of qualifying donations. Following is the breakdown of collected $5.00 donations as reflected in the City Clerks web page:

DISTRICT 2- 433 Qualifying Donations Needed For Public Finance

Steve Baca: 8 verified, 423 remaining to collect, 2% of requirement met
Isaac Benton: 473 verified, 0 remaining to collect, 100% of requirement met
Joseph Griego: 233 verified , 200 remaining to collect, 54% of requirement met
Robert Raymond Blanquera Nelson: 165 verified, 268 remaining to collect, 38% of requirement met
Zachery A. Quintero: 191 verified, 242 remaining to collect, 44% of requirement met
Connie Vigil: 18 verified, 415 remaining to collect, 4% of required met

DISTRICT 4 – 393 Qualifying Donations Needed For Public Finance. This is City Councillor Brad Winters District and he is not running for another term. All the candidates are seeking public finance:

Brook L. Bassan: 185 verified, 208 remaining to collect, 47% of requirement met
Athena Ann Christodoulou: 81 verified, 312 remaining to collect, 21% of requirement met
Mary Sue Flynt: 3 verified , 390 remaining to collect, 1% of requirement met
Anne C. Romero: 89 verified, 304 remaining to collect, 23% of requirement met
Haley Josselyn Roy: 57 verified, 336 remaining to collect, 15 % of requirement met

DISTRICT 6 – 323 Qualifying Donations Needed For Public Finance

Pat Davis: 203 verified, 120 remaining to collect, 63% of requirement met
Gina Naoi Dennis: 137 verified, 186 remaining to be collect, 42%% of requirement met

DISTRICT 8 – 424 Qualifying Donations Needed For Public Finance

S. Maureen Skowran – 153 verified, 272 remaining to collect, 36% of requirement met

NOTE: Incumbent City Councilor Trudy Jones is not seeking public financing and will be relying on private donations.

You can review the full breakdown of verified donations here:

http://www.cabq.gov/vote/2019-candidates

NOMINATING PETITION SIGNATURES

For all the City Council candidates, the qualifying period to secure qualifying nominating signatures from registered voters to be placed on the ballot is May 1, 2019 to June 28, 2019. All candidates running for city council must secure 500 nominating signatures from registered voters who live in the district.

DISTRICT 2 (Incumbent Isaac Benton)

Steve Baca: 61 verified, 439 more needed
Isaac Benton: 371 verified, 129 more needed
Joseph Griego: 323 verified, 177 more needed
Robert Raymond Blanquera Nelson: 224 verified, 276 more needed
Zachery A. Quintero: 104 verified, 396 more needed
Connie Vigil: 121 verified, 369 more needed

DISTRICT 4 – (This is Brad Winters district and he is not running for another term.)

Brook L. Bassan: 227 verified, 273 more needed
Athena Ann Christodoulou: 78 verified, 422 more needed
Mary Sue Flynt: 6 verified, 494 more needed
Anne C. Romero: 91 verified, 409 more needed
Haley Josselyn Roy: 20 verified, 480 more needed

DISTRICT 6 (Incumbent Pat Davis)

Pat Davis: 78 verified, 422 more needed
Gina Naoimi Dennis: 48 verified, 452 more needed

DISTRICT 8 (Incumbent Trudy Jones)
S. Maureen Skowran: 137 verified, 363 more needed
Trudy E. Jones: 0 verified, 500 more needed

You can review the full breakdown of verified donations and signatures here:

http://www.cabq.gov/vote/2019-candidates

HOW RANK VOTING OR INSTANT RUNOFF WORKS

Ranked-choice voting is also known as “instant runoff”. It eliminates the need for a runoff election and all the campaign time and costs associated with a runoff. The ultimate winner of the election is determined with a mathematical calculation of votes listed at once on a single ballot with an elimination process.

All candidates’ names running for a specific office are placed on the ballot in an order determined by a drawing. When a person votes, they rank each candidate by preference. If no one candidate receives at least 50% of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated from the ranking. The ballots are then retallied by counting the first and the second preference votes from each ballot for all the candidates not eliminated by the first vote. If none of the remaining candidates reach the 50% mark, the process continues until one candidate meets the 50% threshold.

Because only one challenger has emerged to run against Pat Davis and Trudy Jones, ranked-choice voting will not affect their races. However, rank voting if passed will be involved with the other 2 City Council races if more than 2 candidates qualify for the ballot.

Rank voting or the “instant runoff” system is used by the City of Santa Fe. Supporters of the instant runoff system argue that it eliminates costly runoff elections and reduces the election season. The average cost of a runoff election is between $500,000 to $1 million. For example, the 2017 mayoral election runoff between Tim Keller and Dan Lewis cost the city taxpayers $840,890. Runoffs in 2013 and 2017 cost the city a combined $1.5 million.

The Albuquerque City Council has exclusive authority to amend the election code and change the election process from the traditional primary and run off system to an instant run off system. The ranked-choice legislation was introduced in April by its sponsors City Councilors Davis, Benton and Winter.

In order to have it in place this year, the city council must to approve it by June 30 which is the deadline for the city to submit election details to the New Mexico Secretary of State and time is running out. The ranked-choice legislation election change is currently stuck in the city council’s Finance & Government Operations committee and has yet to advance the to the full City Council. Notwithstanding, there is still enough time for the city council to enact the legislation.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1319369/window-closing-to-approve-election-overhaul.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Ranked choice voting is a dramatic overhaul of the city election process. If enacted, it will be the first time the city is holding a combined election with other local government agencies. It is likely there will be significant confusion by voters dealing with a ballot mandating a listing of their preferred candidates to decide an election with no run off.

Now that the 2019 municipal election has begun and is in full swing and heating up, both Davis and Benton, who will be on the ballot, want to change the rules of the game knowing full well it will give them an advantage over their opponents who are far less known. Benton and Davis could not care less about the perception and conflict of interest they have running for reelection and having the power to change the rules of the election in the middle of it.

When a task force to overhaul Albuquerque’s public fiancé laws was created, City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton declined to advocate meaningful changes to our public finance laws making it easier for candidates to qualify for public finance. The only change both Davis and Benton agreed to was increasing the amount of money candidates get and not the process of collecting the donations to qualify and not expanding the time to collect qualifying donations. The lack of changes to the public finance laws favors incumbents like Davis and Benton.

Collecting the $5.00 qualifying donations for public finance is a lot easier than it looks and is in fact extremely difficult, unless you are an incumbent. People do not like to donate to politicians. On the other hand, collecting the required number of nominating signatures is not that difficult. With only one week left to secure the $5.00 qualifying contributions, of the 15 candidates for city council it is more likely than not that only 4 will actually qualify for public finance. On the other hand with over a full month left to gather nominating petition signatures from register voters it is more likely than not that at least 7 of the 15 candidates will qualify for the ballot by collecting the 500 qualifying signatures

Rank voting or instant runoff gives incumbents and unfair advantage because of their name identification. Davis and Benton should recuse themselves from voting on the changes to the election process because they will be on the November 5, 2019 ballot. As an alternative, and because of the dramatic change being advocated, the city council should place rank voting on the November 5, 2019 ballot for voters to decide and if it passes, it would be put in place for future elections.

POSTSCRIPT

Following are recommendations for changes to the City’s public finance laws outlined in a January 2, 2018 blog article on the city’s public finance ordinance:

1. Allow four (4) months and two (2) weeks, from January 1 to May 15, to collected both the qualifying donations and petition signatures, and private campaign donation collection.
2. Allow the collection of the qualifying donations from anyone who wants, and not just residents or registered voters of Albuquerque. Privately finance candidates now can collect donations from anyone they want and anywhere in the State and Country.
3. Once the allowed number of qualifying donations is collected, the public financing would be made immediately available, but not allowed to be spent until starting May 15.
4. Permit campaign spending for both publicly financed and privately financed candidates only from May 15 to the October election day.
5. Return to candidates for their use in their campaign any qualifying donations the candidate has collected when the candidate fails to secure the required number of qualifying donations to get the public financing.
6. Mandate the City Clerk to issue debit card or credit card collection devices to collect the qualifying donations and to issue receipts and eliminate the mandatory use of “paper receipts”.
7. Increase from $1.00 to $2.50 per registered voter the amount of public financing, which will be approximately $900,000, and allow for incremental increases of 10% every election cycle keeping up with inflation.
8. Allow for additional matching public financing available for run offs at the rate of $1.25 per registered voter, or $450,000.
9. Albuquerque should make every effort to make municipal elections partisan elections to be held along with State and Federal elections by seeking a constitutional amendment from the legislature to be voted upon by the public.
10. Any money raised and spent by measured finance committees on behalf a candidate should be required to first be applied to reimburse the City for any taxpayer money advanced to a public finance candidate or deducted from a publicly financed candidates account and returned to the city.
11. City of Albuquerque campaign reporting and finance ordinances and regulations need to define with absolute clarity that strictly prohibit the coordination of expenditures and campaign activities with measured finance committees and individual candidate’s campaigns in municipal elections.
12. A mandatory schedule of fines and penalties for violations of the code of ethics and campaign practices act should be enacted by the City Council.

Changing Election Date With No Public Finance Reform

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About

Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.