New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver Calls Proposed Charter Amendment Returning To Plurality Elections Lowering Threshold To Win Municipal Elections To Less Than 50% A “Big Step In Wrong Direction”; Advocates Ranked Choice Voting; City Council Should Let Keller Veto Stand

On June 17 the Albuquerque City Council voted  on a 6 to 3 vote to  passed a Charter Amendment that would eliminate all runoff elections for Mayor and City Council. It would  mandate that whoever gets the most votes wins with no runoff between the two top vote getters.  Whoever secures the most votes of all the candidates running at the same time wins the election out right. The charter amendment was sponsored Democrat Councilor Klarissa Peña  and Republican Dan Lewis.  Republican City Councilors Dan Lewis, Brook Bassan, Renee Grout and Dan Champine and Democrat City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Klarissa Peña voted “YES”. Democrat City Councilors Tammy Fiebelkorn, Nichole Rogers and Joaquín Baca voted “NO”.

If the Chater Amendment is approved, in a crowded candidate field, the prevailing candidate would not have a majority vote but a much less percentage of less than 50% of the vote.  The charter amendment must be placed on the November 5 general election ballot. Passage of the charter amendment by the city council  has been severely criticized as a scheme to dilute the vote to help incumbents and those with high name identification by eliminating voter majority wins Mayor Tim Keller was quick to announce his intent to veto the charter amendment, but the veto could be overturned on a 6 to 3 vote resulting in it  being  placed on the November 5 general election ballot.

A few dozens members of public commented on the amendment. One commenter said, despite the high cost of runoff elections, it was “money well spent.”  Many of public commenters spoke against the  changes and  lowering the percentage of votes a candidate needs to win a city election. “Breaking with established norms, you are proposing to do away with majority rule, a cornerstone of a representative democracy. You are suggesting that a candidate that receives a majority of votes against them is fit to serve and carries a mandate to govern” said one public commenter.

Several public commentors called the proposal undemocratic which prompted City Council President Dan Lewis, a  bill sponsor to challenge the comment. Lewis said this:

“There’s nothing more democratic than Council to be voting on this tonight. … And nothing more democratic than the general public voting on this in November.”

In an Albuquerque Journal  June 17 guest opinion column, Republican City Councilor Dan  Lewis called runoff elections as being rooted in racist strategies in the deep south. The link to the guest column is here:

Councilor Klarissa Peña, the second sponsor of the amendment, said primary runoff elections are used in only a few states and were rooted in racist policies intended to keep white politicians in power. Peña said this:

“This is history, folks.”

It may be history of the deep south, but its not Albuquerque’s history.

First term City Councilor Nichole Rogers, the only African American on the city council, and who was elected in November, 2023 in a runoff election after none of the 4 candidates running secured 50% of the vote, rejected Peña argument and said this:.

“Do not use my people’s plight to justify … making things easier for you to win



On June 25, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver felt compelled to write  Mayor Tim Keller and all 9 Albuquerque City Councilors voicing in no uncertain terms her opposition to the proposed charter amendment.  Following is the full unedited letter:

June 25, 2024

Albuquerque City Council
One Civic Plaza NW
9th Floor, Suite 9087
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Mayor Tim Keller
Councilor Louie Sánchez, District 1
Councilor Joaquin Baca, District 2
Councilor Klarissa Peña, District 3
Councilor Brook Bassan, District 4
Councilor Dan Lewis, District 5
Councilor Nichole Rogers, District 6
Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, District 7
Councilor Dan Champine, District 8
Councilor Renee Grout, District 9

RE: Charter amendment changing winning vote threshold in city elections

Dear Mayor and Councilors:

“As New Mexico’s Chief Election Officer and the former Bernalillo County Clerk, I would not normally reach out to city leadership in this way, but because of my deep concern about Proposal P-24-1’s impact on the electoral process, I must urge each of you to reconsider these proposed changes to Albuquerque’s municipal elections.

Unlike state and federal elections in which there is a Primary Election that whittles down the pool of candidates, municipal runoff elections with winning majority thresholds help create important mandates for local officials in New Mexico.   I also recognize there are some substantive arguments against the city’s existing runoff structure.  These top-two runoff elections come with hefty price tags, and their timing typically means fewer eligible voters make their voices heard at the ballot box.

However, although not ideal, the current system is still preferable to the charter amendment in Proposal P-24-1. Albuquerque voters already approved the current 50% threshold for winning candidates in 2013, and having candidates receive at least 50% of the total votes provides the public with a clear winner who then has a mandate to lead. Changing the city’s election system to one where a candidate can be elected with a minority of votes is a big step in the wrong direction.

If the city continues to feel that the existing system is a problem, the best solution is one that other New Mexico cities are already using, but which the Albuquerque City Council has not implemented: Ranked Choice Voting. This instant runoff approach to voting would eliminate the need for an election at a later date, providing cost savings for the city and a statewide election date voters can plan on each odd numbered year. Plus, Ranked Choice Voting ensures that the winner of the race is elected by a majority of voters.

The perceived legitimacy of our elections has been under significant strain in recent years. The public needs confidence that their municipal leaders have been legitimately elected, and the best way to do that is with a secure, accessible electoral system that demands the winner receives the majority of votes. I hope that you will reconsider your positions on this matter.”



Maggie Toulouse Oliver
New Mexico Secretary of State


The fact that New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver felt compelled to write to Mayor Keller and all 9 city councilors should give all 6 of the city councilors who voted for the measure great pause and grounds to reconsider their vote. Simply put, the Charter Amendment to reduce the vote to win a City Council or Mayoral race with whoever gets the most votes with no runoffs is very bad election policy and  government on many levels.  It will  promote chaos in municipal elections and the promotion of extreme fringe candidates that will dilute the vote and who would be culled out of an election with  runoffs between two top vote getters.

The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council have deteriorated because of the sure frustration the conservatives on the council have experienced in not being able to stop the Keller progressive agenda with overriding vetoes.  As a result, the city council is once again trying to get city voters to change our basic form of city government with charter amendments in order to carry out a personal vendetta against a Mayor they do not like and who they perceive as ineffective and unpopular and who is running for a third term despite a low approval rating of 33%.

It’s downright offensive to city voters that City Council President Dan Lewis and Klarissa Peña pulled  the “race card” alleging runoff elections are rooted in racist strategies in the South. Both conveniently ignored the fact that it was voters who changed the charter provisions by requiring run offs where no one candidate secures 50% of the vote and it was done so on recommendation of a Charter Review Task Force.

Common Cause was quick to address the city council vote on social media this way:

“[The Albuquerque City Council]  took us backward by amending an already bad proposal. Rather than lowering the threshold to be elected mayor or city councilor from 50% to 40%, they’ve eliminated any threshold altogether. Candidates under this scheme could be elected with 10% for example. The 6-3 passage of this proposal means, voters will be confronted with a question on this November’s ballot to eliminate run-offs and move to a free-for-all voting process where fringe candidates and special interests will dominate our elections.”

Mayor Tim  Keller is right to veto the proposed Charter Amend measure on election votes and try to talk some sense into the Democrats City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez in the hopes of changing their minds, but that will likely be an exercise in futility given the poor relations he has with the two and for that matter the city council in general.

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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.