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Ballot question to change city election dates gets council OK

August 10, 2018

City voters will decide in November whether to move municipal Santa Fe elections from spring to fall after the city governing body late Wednesday unanimously approved a charter amendment ballot question.

The vote is the first move in a multistep campaign to shift city elections from March in even-numbered years to November in odd-numbered years, a change envisioned by a new state law intended to consolidate local election dates and boost turnout in down-ballot races.

Voter approval of the charter amendment this fall would establish new odd-year elections and change the beginning and end dates for elected municipal officeholders.

Santa Fe city elections presently scheduled for March 2020 — with four City Council seats and the municipal judgeship at issue — would take place in November 2019 instead.

Winners of those contests would be sworn in Jan. 1, 2020, rather than the Sunday after what is now an early March election.

The elections presently scheduled for March 2022, when Mayor Alan Webber’s term and the remaining four City Council seats are set to expire, would be held in November 2021.

City voters will be asked in November whether they favor amending the charter to accommodate the shift, a simplification of earlier, more opaque proposed ballot language.

The rewritten ballot question is more coherent and will be much more palatable to the voter, councilors said.

Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, the original sponsor of the March-to-November shift, introduced an ordinance Wednesday that would establish new election dates and term schedules for current officeholders.

Should voters approve the charter amendments, the mayor and city councilors, whose terms were scheduled to run through the March 2020 and 2022 elections, would see their terms shortened by two months.

The complexity of the one-two punch needed to amend the charter and set new election dates will require a diligent voter-education campaign, much the same as the ranked-choice voting outreach enacted before the March election, several councilors have said. Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler aptly described the various moving parts of the proposal as “sort of like a Rubik’s cube.”

The two-month interim between election in November and taking office in January would be beneficial to newly elected officials who could use the transition period to get up to speed, Councilor Mike Harris said. Mayor Alan Webber, elected in March, has frequently said the one-week transition period between his election and swearing-in made for a too-abrupt administrative transition.

Santa Fe County commissioners must still formally approve including the proposal on the November ballot before a state-mandated deadline at the end of this month.

The city’s opt-in to the Local Election Act, a new state law meant to increase voter turnout in down-ballot races by consolidating local elections into a single date, also foreshadows a reduced role for the city clerk.

Clerk Yolanda Vigil’s office would no longer oversee biennial municipal elections under the Local Election Act. Instead, the Santa Fe County clerk would manage the races for mayor, City Council and municipal judge.

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