City Ordered to Make Public Mock-Up of Illegible Ballot

Employees Say Families Need Fair Election on Earned Sick Days Question

Albuquerque, NM — On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Alan Malott ordered the City of Albuquerque to hand over the mock 2017 municipal ballot to members of the Healthy Workforce ABQ campaign, which advocates for the passage of an ordinance that would allow all Albuquerque workers to earn sick leave. The judge also ordered the Albuquerque City Clerk to testify at a deposition about how the City will fit all required issues, contests, and questions on the 2017 ballot.

In its lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque, the campaign argues that because the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance will only fit on the ballot in an illegible and illegally-small font size — approximately 6-point font — the City Clerk should place a legible summary on the ballot and provide a legible, large-text copy of the full ordinance in each voting booth so that voters can read both documents.The City’s uses the same practice for bond questions.

“I’m legally blind and have to cast my ballot in a special voting machine that has long lines. Small font on the ballot will mean more people will have to make use of the limited machines that help visually-impaired people read their ballots,” said Jerry C De Baca, veteran and voter.

According to federal voting systems guidelines adopted in Section 1-9-14 of the New Mexico Election Code, election ballots must be printed at a minimum of 8.5 point font or larger to ensure that voters with poor vision can read their ballots. In their demand for a copy of the City’s mock-up ballot, Healthy Workforce argued that it will show that the earned sick days ordinance can only fit on the ballot in in a font size well below 8.5, in violation of law.

“Everyone deserves a fair election. Voters will be frustrated and discouraged from voting because the election ballot will be printed too small for voters to read,” said Diane Goldfarb of the League of Women Voters.

“A lot of voters will see that small font and skip right over it,” said Becca Arana, a member of OLÉ. “A ballot printed too small to read can determine whether hard-working moms and dads get a fair election, or not, on allowing employees to earn sick days.”

Albuquerque City Clerk, Natalie Howard, was also ordered to testify in a deposition about whether she can fit the Healthy Workforce Ordinance on the ballot in legible type alongside all the other issues that voters will decide in 2017, including the mayoral race, city council races, and bond questions.

Judge Malott did not rule on the font size question or issue any final rulings today. The plaintiffs plan to seek a final ruling soon after the City produces all of the information the Court ordered it to produce today, to ensure the people of ABQ will have a chance to vote a ballot they can read in October.

 

 

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Judge Holds NM Human Services Chief in Contempt

human-services-departmentOriginally published in the Albuquerque Journal September 28, 2016
https://www.abqjournal.com/854783/judge-finds-contempt-in-hsd-legal-case.html

SANTA FE – A federal judge held New Mexico’s top human services official in contempt Tuesday for failing to comply with court orders aimed at improving the administration of food aid and Medicaid health care benefits.

The contempt order against Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest by U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales upheld findings that the cabinet secretary did not diligently attempt to comply with court orders concerning the handling of Medicaid benefit renewals, eligibility for immigrants, training for agency employees and other administrative requirements.

The judge, in his Tuesday order, also said objections filed by the agency were without merit and that the overall direction of the case was troubling.

“It remains clear that HSD and its officials have failed to exercise the leadership, control and managerial oversight to effectively come into compliance with the court orders,” Gonzales wrote.

However, a spokesman for the Human Services Department, which runs the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, took issue with at least part of the judge’s order.

“We strongly disagree with the judge’s characterization of the department, which doesn’t take into account all of our efforts to resolve long-standing issues – some of which are three decades old and occurred under several administrations,” HSD spokesman Kyler Nerison said. “However, we are pleased that the court has agreed with us to bring in an outside monitor to help resolve those issues.”

“Regardless, we are going to continue providing services to New Mexicans who need it the most,” he added.

The contempt finding accompanies the judge’s earlier approval of plans for a court-appointed special master to help ensure federally funded benefits are administered properly amid internal investigations by state and federal agencies into allegations that food aid applications were falsified.

The civil contempt order carries no additional sanctions or penalties.

Sovereign Hager, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and advocate for aid beneficiaries in the litigation, said the order sends a strong message nonetheless.

“I think this is a message that if things don’t work out with a special master and the state doesn’t come into compliance, the court will look to harsher remedies,” she said.

New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, and there were more than 536,000 New Mexicans receiving food assistance benefits under SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps, as of July, according to HSD. That figure was up by more than 7 percent – or nearly 36,000 people – from a year earlier.

The judge’s contempt order is the latest twist in a 1988 lawsuit. Earlier this year, a series of hearings were conducted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza, who had been tasked with monitoring compliance with a consent decree in the lawsuit and previous court orders.

Those hearings showed potential problems with the SNAP program, including testimony that state intake workers had been ordered to falsify income for some applicants, effectively denying them emergency benefits.

The testimony prompted criticism of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration by top legislative Democrats and party officials, including a call from Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the chairman of the interim Health and Human Services Committee, for Earnest to resign.

Earnest took over as HSD secretary – after Martinez picked him for the job – in December 2014 after the agency’s former secretary stepped down.

Read the Order from Judge Gonzales here.