Runoff Rule a Major Factor in ABQ Special Election

November 20, 2013

Voices, Politics / Current Events

I can only assume that both Janice Arnold-Jones and Bud Shaver each wish that they had never heard the other's name.

Everything that happened in Albuquerque's special election - and I do mean everything, especially the overwhelming defeat of the carpetbaggers' anti-women/anti-choice/and-science abortion ban - came down to the District 7 run-off. Without the less-than-50% runoff rule and the city council race that fell under those terms, the vote on the Albuquerque late-term abortion ban would have been a mail-in election only. Indeed, Operation: Rescue and their out-of-state crusaders were counting on exactly that when they filed their petition signatures too late to make the October 8th mayoral election. Turnout in mail-in races is even more appallingly low than the "high" 24% this race garnered, and - more importantly - it generally favors conservative causes. That was even true in this case; while votes against the ban from in-person early voting outnumbered votes in favor by a 58-42% margin, the far smaller number of mail-in absentee ballots came out in favor of the ban by nearly 2-to-1. All the foes of science would have needed to do was mobilize the congregations of just a few evangelical megachurches and then declare victory.

(And before anyone points out that churches are not legally allowed to engage in active electioneering, I'd remind you that no church has ever gotten in trouble for doing so.)

Unfortunately for them, an in-person election increased turnout tenfold. Merely having the option of the more tactile and "real" voting method meant that pro-choice groups were able to mobilize their base and organize massive drive-to-the-poll efforts for the entire early voting period. In a city where 53% of registered voters are women, 58% of the voters who turned out were women; three voting centers still had people in line for nearly an hour after the polls closed, and all three (Bandelier and Montezuma Elementary schools and Jefferson Middle School) are in the most liberal part of town. For Kansas-based Operation: Rescue, it was a disaster.

For Janice Arnold-Jones as well the situation was absolutely the worst thing possible; relatively moderate (particularly in comparison to the GOP as it stands now) and consistently popular within her own neighborhood, a runoff victory should have been no problem for her, and under normal circumstances it wouldn't have been. Unfortunately, turnout was so much higher than it would have been had that race been the only game in town that Diane Gibson - her opponent and the district's new councilor-elect - received more votes in early voting alone than she received total in last month's race. With the abortion ban on the menu, Democratic voters in District 7 had something to turn out for, and many of those who would otherwise not have bothered to show up voted for Ms. Gibson.  Thus it is that the Albuquerque City Council will have a Democratic majority for the first time in nearly five years.

More than anyone else in New Mexico, Councilor Arnold-Jones has to be cursing Bud Shaver's name. For that matter, Bud Shaver and Operation: Rescue have to be cursing Matt Biggs (the third candidate on the October ballot in District 7 whose inclusion led to the necessary runoff, and thus the in-person election for the abortion measure).

Ultimately, this election demonstrated one of the fundamental truths of New Mexico politics; in the words of Lew Wallace, "All calculations, based on experience elsewhere, fail in New Mexico."

Albuquerque was chosen as the testing ground for the municipal abortion ban because while we are a heavily Catholic city, we are also a moderate city with a trend in recent years of an increasing Democratic edge; an abortion ban in Odessa, Texas or Wichita, Kansas isn't going to have nearly the same effect from a PR stand-point as it would in Albuquerque. Victory here would have given them the ability to hold us up high on the cross and say, "Look, even in Democratic districts, Americans oppose abortion."

Their great error was counting on the as-ever illusory "Catholic vote"; like some of the opponents of Kennedy in 1960, they made the fundamental error of believing (bizarrely) that Catholics vote however the church tells them to. In reality, Catholics are exactly as pro-choice or anti-abortion as the rest of America, exactly as Democratic or Republican, and exactly as politically active or inactive. Albuquerque, much like Boston, has so many Catholics that the degree to which it informs our politics is almost negligible; being Catholic is such a non-issue when it becomes the norm that it has about as much effect on voting habits as being redheaded does.

One thing is worth remembering; we can hope that this overwhelming defeat of fascism borne of a selective theology will force the carpetbaggers responsible for making us their guinea pigs to return to Kansas and leave us in peace. However, their original plan - relying on a mail-in election to pass a blatantly unconstitutional ordnance that they could not pass by other means - wasn't a completely unsound strategy, and it is entirely possible someone will try again.


(Photo via Flickr by Vos Efx)

This piece was written by:

Juan Carlos Holmes's photo

Juan Carlos Holmes

Juan Carlos Holmes is a lifelong Albuquerque resident and private political consultant for Democratic candidates. He has worked on local, state, and national races for over a decade, and has actively campaigned for broader open government laws and women's health in New Mexico.

Contact Juan Carlos Holmes

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