The state Supreme Court on Monday ordered election workers to postpone the mailing of general-election ballots this weekend until the court can decide whether it’s legal for the county to add advisory questions to the ballot. The court order came shortly after Bernalillo County filed an emergency petition Monday asking justices to intervene and authorize the addition of two advisory questions – one centering on marijuana decriminalization, the other on raising taxes for mental-health programs. The Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23 – next Tuesday. County election workers had faced a Saturday deadline to begin mailing absentee ballots to voters outside New Mexico, such as military personnel stationed overseas, but justices ordered them to hold off until the court takes further action. Election results for the two questions wouldn’t be binding. They simply ask voters for their opinion.
Bernalillo County commissioners authorized legal action earlier Monday to get the questions on the Nov. 4 ballot. They voted 3-2 along party lines, with Democrats in the majority. Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley, a Democrat, said legal action is necessary because Secretary of State Dianna Duran refused to allow the marijuana and tax questions on the ballot, even after commissioners approved them. “We have, I think, interference from the state level,” O’Malley said in Monday’s special commission meeting. “That, to me, is a real, fundamental problem. … What I’m hearing from folks is that they want to vote on this issue.”
Commissioners earlier rejected three questions the city had wanted on the ballot: giving the City Council approval over the hiring of a police chief, issuing bonds for redevelopment projects and changing the process for petition initiatives. Those all would have been binding decisions.
Duran, a Republican and the state’s top election official, contends it’s illegal to put nonbinding advisory questions on the ballot because they don’t result in formal action, such as enacting a law or imposing a tax. Instead, they’re akin to a public opinion poll, she said, which is inappropriate for a general-election ballot.