3 p.m. Oct. 13: This story has been updated to reflect that city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez made the motion to establish the task force.

El Pasoans for Fair Elections, who want to reform the way the mayor and city representatives are elected, may have to re-collect thousands of signatures if they want their propositions to make it to a future election.

City Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to deny the three propositions submitted by the group through a citizen petition that aims to change the way candidates for city council are financed and elected. Instead of approving the propositions, city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez made a motion to establish a cross functional team to determine what can legally be done for the fair elections campaign ordinances.

“We’re exploring different options – either simultaneously gathering signatures while also working with the city because we have a very short deadline,” said Veronica Carbajal.

Carbajal in 2021 co-founded the Justicia Fronteriza political action committee, and led the effort for the El Pasoans for Fair Elections specific purpose committee tied to the PAC to develop the fair elections propositions.

During the second reading of the ordinance and public hearing on Tuesday, council – after discussing them behind closed doors for about three hours – voted 5-1 to have city staff develop a fair elections task force to return to the council in early December with recommendations on the propositions.

City Reps. Alexsandra Annello, Cissy Lizarraga, Claudia Rodriguez, Joe Molinar and Hernandez voted in favor of the task force. City Rep. Isabel Salcido voted against it. City Rep. Peter Svarzbein and Henry Rivera were not present for the vote.

City staff however, pointed out that the council still had to vote on the ordinances – aside from the vote to establish the task force. Hernandez made a motion to deny adopting the three ordinances and City Council then voted 4-2 to not adopt them.

Annello and Salcido voted against denying the propositions. Lizarraga, Rodriguez, Hernandez and Molinar voted in favor of denying the propositions. Svarzbein and Rivera were not present for the vote.

Carbajal said they are willing to work with the city on a compromise.

Carbajal and a group of about 10 to 15 supporters waited at the council meeting for several hours Tuesday before the council took up the items. About 20 people commented on the items asking the city to adopt the propositions without altering them.

“There have been many qualified candidates that do not have the same kind of connections and funders that front runners here tend to receive,” said Vanessa Medrano. “But by leveling the playing field, we’re ensuring quality candidates aren’t overshadowed by candidates with friends with deep pockets.”

The petition includes three propositions:

  • Proposition A would limit individual campaign contributions to $1,000 per election and require contributors to disclose their place of employment, something the city would be tasked with enforcing.
  • Proposition B would establish a public financing program paid for with city funds that candidates could tap into if they agree to limit their campaign contributions and expenditures.
  • Proposition C would implement ranked-choice voting in which voters rank candidates by preference instead of selecting just their top choice.

The group gathered 14,000 signatures and submitted them Sept. 13. The city held the first reading of the ordinances Sept. 27.

City Council directed the fair elections task force to return with recommendations during the first meeting of December. It was not immediately clear who will serve on the task force.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...