City May Have To Hold 2 Elections - Redistricting Ruling Expected Monday

Albuquerque Journal (NM) - Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Author: Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal By Dan McKay Journal Staff Writer
City Clerk Amy Bailey says it’s possible this year’s municipal ballot could be split into two separate elections if a judge orders Albuquerque to redraw City Council districts immediately. 

Bailey’s comments came while she was on the stand in a lawsuit over the city’s decision to wait on redistricting until after the Oct. 4 election. Bailey didn’t say she favored the two-election plan, just that it’s one possibility if the city is forced to develop new district boundaries. 

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico say the City Council’s nine districts are “grossly mal-apportioned” because of rocketing growth on the West Side, which has left residents west of the river with too little representation on the council. 

State District Judge Nan Nash on Tuesday wrapped up a two-day hearing on whether to order redistricting and perhaps postpone the Oct. 4 election or split it up. She said she expects to issue a decision by noon Monday. 

Nash skeptically questioned both sides during the twoday hearing but didn’t reveal whether she’s leaning one way or another. 

Bailey said Tuesday she doesn’t believe it’s practical to redraw the boundaries and still hold the council election Oct. 4, as suggested by one witness for the plaintiffs. 

“ I think it ’s highly unrealistic,” she said of one timeline broached by the plaintiffs. 

But the city could hold the Oct. 4 election with only bond proposals — and a question on the fate of the red-light camera program — on the ballot, she said in response to questions from attorneys. The four City Council seats scheduled to be up for election then could be done separately after that, Bailey said. 

She added she would try to comply with whatever instructions she receives from the court or elected city officials. 

The idea of two elections is the latest twist to surface in the debate over whether proceeding with the fall council election would violate the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU says the city erred in deciding to go forward with an election even before it redraws district boundaries to comply with the latest Census Bureau data. 

Refusing to redistrict “is not only unconstitutional, it’s grossly unfair” to West Siders, said David Freedman, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “They have waited long enough.” 

Each of the nine districts is supposed to have about 60,000 residents under the new data, but growth west of the Rio Grande has thrown those districts out of whack with the others. 

Attorneys for the city say the census data weren’t released in time to comply with election deadlines outlined in the City Charter, and it would have been unwise to rush through the redistricting process without adequate public comment and review.