Some Santa Feans probably had forgotten that back in 2008, city voters overwhelmingly voted to change the city election system to “ranked choice voting.”
Also known as “instant runoff” voting, it’s used in Australia and some U.S. jurisdictions in elections, and comes into play when there are more than two candidates in a race.
Ranked-choice voting typically requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the second choices of those who voted for the candidate receiving the least amount of votes are tallied and applied to the remaining candidates’ vote totals. This process is repeated until one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
There are variations in the process – voters might just rank a top three, or they could rank every candidate on a jammed ballot with numerous contenders. There also could be an iteration where ranked choice declares a winner with something less than 50 percent.
The 2008 change was approved as an amendment to the city charter. But the amendment specified that Santa Fe wouldn’t move away from its traditional election system, where only a simple plurality is needed to win, until suitable vote-counting software was available at a reasonable price.
A company claims it can now offer ranked-choice software for a mere $39,000. So, nine years after instant runoff was OK’d by Santa Fe’s electorate, the City Council recently took up the question of whether to start working toward using ranked choice in the March 2018 city elections, when the mayor’s position and four council seats will be on the ballot.
The council and mayor voted 4-3, with two councilors absent, against proceeding. The narrow majority cited legitimate concerns about whether the software company can meet fall deadlines to get its product certified and whether more time is needed to educate voters about the change.
But remember – it’s been more than nine years since Santa Fe voters determined ranked-choice voting was the way Santa Fe should go. As Mayor Javier Gonzales said, it’s time to follow that direction. If the software can’t get its act together by the fall, the council can still “pull the plug” on ranked choice for 2018, he said.
With the recent discussion and vote, questions have been raised about the details of a ranked-choice system for Santa Fe. Side issues include how ranked choice changes candidate strategy and gamesmanship.
But, as they say, the voters have spoken – and they did so nearly a decade ago.
The City Council therefore should do all it can to make ranked-choice voting a reality in 2018.