El Pasoans for Fair Elections, a special committee of the political action committee Justicia Fronteriza, turned in 11,022 signatures on Thursday in support of its petition that aims to change how mayoral and city representative candidates are financed and elected.

The El Paso city clerk, according to the municipal code, now has 30 working days to validate that the group turned in at least 10,875 valid signatures – the equivalent of 5% of the last general election turnout – before presenting the item to City Council. The council can then vote whether to include the item in the May election or reject it. A signature counts as valid when the person is a registered voter living within the city limits of El Paso. 

The initiative consists of three propositions: Proposition A would limit campaign contributions to $1,000 per donor and require them to disclose their place of employment; Proposition B would establish a campaign financing program paid by city funds for candidates who agree to limit their campaign contributions and expenditures; and Proposition C would introduce ranked-choice voting – a system where voters rank candidates in order of preference. The system would do away with runoff elections now required when no one candidate receives a majority of votes.

If City Council rejects or amends any of the propositions on the petition, the group will have to collect a second round of signatures to place its initiatives on the ballot.  

The group’s initial goal was to submit the signatures this past May to have City Council consider the propositions and re-collect signatures if needed by Aug. 22 – the deadline for petitions to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot this fall. 

But the group struggled to collect valid signatures and meet the deadline because of people’s confusion with city and county limits and who was eligible to sign the petition.

El Pasoans for Fair Elections organizer Verónica Carbajal turns in 11,022 signatures for their petition on City Council elections to El Paso City Clerk Laura Prine on Thursday at City Hall. (Elizabeth Cervantes/El Paso Matters)

The group pushed back its submission date to ensure every signature counted, said Justicia Fronteriza’s President Verónica Carbajal, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2020.

“We wanted to make sure that every signature we submitted we could vouch for, and we could defend it before City Council, before the court of law, if we have to file a lawsuit,” Carbajal said.

Now, organizers are aiming to put the propositions on the May 2023 ballot. The number of signatures they would have to turn in if City Council rejects or amends their propositions will be based on the voter turnout in the November election. The group must submit a second round of signatures by late February, according to Carbajal.

“People are really hungry for this,” Carbajal said. “They’re hungry for a city government that is responsive, and it doesn’t matter what part of town we were in.”

Carbajal said the group will make the propositions a campaign issue for the four city seats that are up for election this November. 

El Pasoans for Fair Elections organizer Verónica Carbajal claps after organizer Jean-Carlo Tirado speaks about their ballot initiatives to transform City Council election outside City Hall. (Elizabeth Cervantes/El Paso Matters)

“For any candidate that wants our endorsement, they’re going to have to commit to supporting this initiative and to also limit their own campaign contributions,” Carbajal said.

So far, the organization’s efforts have been funded by the $83,000 the committee received from More Perfect Texas, an organization that aims to strengthen democracy in Texas by supporting reform policies and funding these efforts. Most of these funds have already been used, Carbajal said. 

“Changing the law as a citizen is incredibly hard and it shouldn’t be this hard, but we’re working with what we have,” Carbajal said.