Mayor Tim Keller Vetoes Proposed Charter Amendment Eliminating All Runoffs For Mayor And City Council And Returning To Plurality Elections; Keller Veto Could Be Overridden If One of 6 City Councilors Who Voted for Measure Does Not Change Mind

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  mandated 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”.  Mayor Tim Keller immediately vowed he would veto the measure.

Back before 2013, Albuquerque did use a lower threshold for elections. Candidates only needed to win at least 40% of the votes, as well as receive more votes than any other candidate.  Voters then changed the election system to its current configuration of a runoff between the two top vote getters if no one receives the majority vote.

If the Chater Amendment was  approved voters, 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. 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

On June 17, 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.”

On June 25 New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver wrote Mayor Tim Keller all nine City Councilors voicing her opposition to the proposed charter amendment. She wrote in part:

… . 

“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 [proposed] charter amendment … . 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.”


On July 3, Mayor Tim Keller made good on his word and announced he has vetoed the proposed charter amendment that if approved by voters would have returned municipal elections of Mayor and City Council to “plurality elections.”

Following is Mayor Tim Keller’s July 2  veto message to the City Council:

“After careful legal review, I have identified the following issues with the legislation R-24-47, which I have outlined in detail below. I would first like to point out that there are important discrepancies between the resolution as amended at the City Council meeting on June 17 and the resolution presented to my office from the City Council Clerk.

After adoption of the floor amendment to amend the resolution from 40% to a plurality the following  language was not removed from the original legislation:

• Page 1, line 24, the words “total number of votes cast for the office”; and
• Page 2, line 1 the number “40%”.  …

While I do understand the intent of the amendment and the ability for a clerk’s correction, this is a significant correction and raises legal concerns with the resolution. It also highlights that this final proposal came at the conclusion of the previous iterations and did not receive the appropriate public input and attention it warranted.

This resolution would lower the threshold for Mayor and City Council to be elected from the current system—50% plus 1—to a plurality, meaning most votes wins, and it would eliminate runoffs. Runoff elections are the norm in cities that employ nonpartisan ballots to select local officials. Peer cities such as El Paso, Oklahoma City, Denver, Phoenix, Colorado Springs, and Sacramento all use a 50% plus 1 threshold. 

Although we elect members of Congress and state legislators via plurality vote, these are partisan elections, where parties first select their nominees before they compete in general election. Because the plurality vote rule combined with single member districts tends to produce two strong political parties, general elections almost always have only two candidates, and thus a majority vote winner.  Cities by and large have nonpartisan elections, not party primaries, thus runoffs are often required to produce a majority winner.

I firmly believe a plurality system would give a significant advantage to incumbent candidates and  remove a level of accountability our constituents deserve. With more support from voters, elected leaders have a clear mandate to govern. With a plurality, a Mayor or Councilor could be in office with 10% of the vote or less, making it challenging to represent the whole city or be held accountable to voters.

I want to remind everyone that in 2013, with a vote of 55% to 45%, voters spoke loud and clear on this  issue by changing the then 40% threshold to the current 50%. Current efforts nationwide to reform city elections are focused on promoting democracy and civic engagement, not anti-majoritarian policies like the current amendment, which would allow a minority of voters in the city to select our mayor, and a minority of voters in council districts to select city councilors. This is something I cannot ignore; I respect and support the will of the voters and all the members of our community who have pushed for more  accountability in our elections.

I want to recognize the overwhelming input from the public in opposition to this particular piece of  legislation. It has been clear in the last three City Council meetings, nearly every single community  member voiced their concern and opposition to this measure. There have also been a significant number of op-eds and letters published in opposition, including an open letter to all CABQ leaders from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

With that being said, I want to recognize that the sponsors of this legislation have been clear and consistent on their position. While I disagree with their position, it has created a healthy discussion and debate within our community, which is a cornerstone of our democracy.

R-24-47 as passed would drastically change the way we conduct elections in the City of Albuquerque. While no election system is perfect, this charter amendment moves Albuquerque in the wrong direction.

For these reasons, I am respectfully exercising my authority to veto R-24-47.”

The link to the relied upon news sources are  here:

Click to access R-24-47-Veto.pdf


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 government on many levels and will promote chaos in municipal elections. Initially when the Mayor-City Council form of government was created, it was common to have upwards of 15 candidates running for Mayor and who ever got the most votes won. The result was chaotic elections with  fringe candidates diluting the vote.

It was right for Mayor Keller to make good on his word and veto the charter amendment eliminating all runoff elections. The problem is that it was enacted by the City Council on a 6 to 3 vote, meaning his veto could be overridden by the council if all 6 of the City Councilors who voted for it initially refuse to change their minds.

The Council is on “Summer Break” and will return on August 5, 2024 and at that meeting they could consider overriding Mayor Keller’s veto.  Until then Mayor Tim Keller, and for that matter the general voting public, should make every effort to try and talk some sense into the 6 city councilors who voted for this ill-advised amendment to eliminate run offs and encourage them to let the Keller veto stand. Otherwise, every effort should be made by Mayor Keller and the general public to campaign and make sure the measure is defeated at the polls come November 5.

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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.