At the end of May, ProgressNowNM and Drug Policy Action teamed up to put put the question of reduced marijuana penalties to Albuquerque voters this fall. This historic election would be the first votes cast in New Mexico for marijuana reform.
Supporters were eager to sign the petition, as KOAT found out when they followed our canvassers around one weekend:
But two days after petitions were due, Republican City Councilor Don Harris asked city hall to ‘reread’ the rules. Now they say the 11,203 signatures they required when the campaign began wasn’t enough and they didn’t let anyone know until after the deadline for more signatures had passed.
That’s shenanigans of the highest order and it even has the Albuquerque Journal calling foul:
The city had told supporters of the marijuana penalty petition they needed 11,203 valid signatures to get their question on a ballot. They turned in more than 16,000 signatures by Monday’s deadline, thinking that provided a cushion for almost 5,000 invalid signatures…
When City Councilor Don Harris, a Republican from the east side, saw the 11,203 figure, he told city staff he thought it seemed low. A recalculation yielded a new requirement of 14,218 signatures, based on the number of voters in the last year’s mayoral election, which drew slightly more than 70,000 voters.
But by then, the deadline to gather signatures had passed. Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico, which backs the proposal, called the error “shenanigans” and said it’s “absolutely not” fair to change the number now. – Albuquerque Journal editorial, Aug. 1, 2014
We know some of the names from signers won’t count. Some are illegible, others are from residents who aren’t registered to vote. But most will count and we committed to fighting for everyone to be sure we met our 11,203 goal. Now that we need more than 3,000 more valid signatures and no more time allowed by the city to collect them, the voters who did their part (and campaigners who designed and delivered a campaign to bring in 11,000 names) are left without the election city hall promised.
As we keep meeting with the city, election lawyers and supporters, we’ve set up a legal defense fund to save these pot petitions. We’re organizers, not lawyers so we have to hire a team of experts to stand up for our right to vote.
On August 4, City Councilor Rey Garduno introduced a resolution calling for the city to take a non-binding vote on the issue in November. Much like a similar proposition sent to voters in 2011 asking if the red light camera program should be ended, this measure would ask city voters if the council should lower penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. If Garduno earns enough support at the August 17th meeting, and voters approve it in November, the council would then be asked to pass a new ordinance enabling the change.