Letter to the Editor: The Importance of Voting ‘NO’ on Charter Ballot Questions

By Patricia Max

There have been several posts regarding the four ballot questions designed to amend sections of the Charter that concern Initiative, Referendum, and Recall.

I urge voters to vote No on all four ballot questions for several reasons.

The first reason is that Council is required by law to present only legal questions to the voters. These four questions are not legal questions because each one was derived from a number of ordinances that were voted on as a group, not individually. This is in direct violation of the following sections of the Charter:

203.2.1 which describes the introduction of an ordinance, introduced in writing, and limited to a single subject;

203.2.2 which describes how the notice of the proposed adoption of an ordinance should be published and the contents of the publication;

203.2.3 which states that Council may adopt the ordinance with or without amendment or reject it and the process the Council must follow if the ordinance is amended; and

203.2.4 which states that unless otherwise provided in this Charter, every adopted ordinance shall become effective thirty (30) days after the publication of the notice of its adoption or at any later date specified in the ordinance.

In every one of the above sections of the Charter, the reference is to “an ordinance” and “the ordinance”, not multiple ordinances. There is nothing in the Charter that allows the Council to lump together separate ordinances, even if the argument can be made that the relate to a single subject, and vote on the group.

Several years ago, there was a detailed discussion of Council’s obligation to present only legal questions to the voters. The importance of the legality of a question has not diminished in the last few years.

Second, there are no meeting minutes of the Charter Review Committee’s subcommittee tasked to analyze the Charter sections covering Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. There is no information on who attended those meetings, what their suggestions were, and how those suggestions were factored into the twenty one ordinances that were then grouped into the four ballot questions.

Third, the changes to the number of petition signatures and the length of time to gather these signatures for both Initiative and Referendum petitions are very similar to those used in some New Mexico municipalities.

However there is a glaring difference between Los Alamos and those New Mexico municipalities. Los Alamos is an incorporated county and holds its municipal elections at the same time as the general election while most, if not all, New Mexico municipalities hold their municipal elections in late winter with a much lower turnout.

Thus the result of changing the number of petition signatures and the length of time to gather these signatures for both Initiative and Referendum petitions has an adverse effect in Los Alamos County because of the number of voters in the general election.

To summarize, after listening to the Council repeatedly saying that it can only present legal questions to the voters, the Council has ignored the importance of presenting only legal questions to the voters.

The illegality of the four questions is the most serious reason for voters to vote No on all ballot questions. However, the lack of meeting minutes leaving voters in the dark about who suggested the changes and how they were evaluated and an incorrect application of percentages of signatures and times to gather those signatures from municipalities where elections have low turnout to Los Alamos elections only emphasize the importance of voting No.


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