City Council to consider rescinding decision to postpone ranked-choice voting

In two weeks, the Santa Fe City Council will consider rescinding its June 28 decision to postpone trying to implement ranked-choice voting in time for the March 2018 city elections.

At a meeting Wednesday night, Councilor Joseph Maestas declared his intention to make a rescission motion at the next council meeting – on July 26 – to overturn the council’s 4-3 vote to delay ranked-choice voting until at least the 2020 elections.

Two councilors, Peter Ives and Carmichael Dominguez, were absent for the June vote.

“For something as important as ranked-choice voting that’s called for in the city charter, and it’s been nearly 10 years since voters approved it as an amendment, I felt it was absolutely essential for all members of the governing body to be present,” Maestas said Thursday.

Maestas, who was on the losing end of the 4-3 vote, said he will also ask for a public hearing on the issue. There was no hearing before the June 28 council decision.

Ranked-choice voting, also known as “instant runoff,” was approved overwhelmingly by city voters in 2008 as a change to the city charter. But the wording of the amendment said ranked choice didn’t have to be used until appropriate software for vote tabulation “and the ability to correct incorrectly marked, in-person ballots” became available “at a reasonable price.”

City Clerk Yolanda Vigil recently told the City Council and mayor that ranked-choice software maker Dominion Inc. has dropped its price from $250,000 to $39,000.

But the four councilors who voted against trying to implement ranked-choice voting for 2018 had concerns that getting the proper balloting software certified would be pushing election deadlines and that there’s not enough time to educate voters about the change.

Councilor Mike Harris noted during council discussion on June 28 that Dominion Inc. has missed previous dates for getting its software qualified for the 2018 balloting and the firm’s product still isn’t ready. “I don’t see how we can move forward with this,” he said.

Vigil said that based on the latest estimate, Dominion will have its software properly tested by Aug. 25. The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office has said it could certify the system by Oct. 1. That’s a month after city code calls for issuing candidacy filing packets for mayor and City Council seats, and when candidates can start collecting a required number of $5 donations to qualify for public financing.

Mayor Javier Gonzales argued in June that planning and ordinance changes for ranked-choice voting in 2018 could start and the city could still “pull the plug” if certification of the software doesn’t happen.

Harris’ postponement motion passed with support from Councilors Signe Lindell, Ron Trujillo and Chris Rivera. Gonzales, Maestas and Renee Villarreal voted no.

In ranked-choice voting, which comes into play when there are more than two candidates in a race, voters rank their candidate choices in order of preference. If after an initial vote tally, no one gets more than 50 percent, the person with the fewest votes is eliminated and the second choices of those who voted for the last-place candidate are counted as votes for the remaining candidates. If the top vote-getter still doesn’t have a majority, the process is repeated until someone tops 50 percent.

Proponents says it prevents underdog “spoilers” from tilting the race and allows voters to choose their real favorites instead of “the lesser of two evils.”

Maestas said the council needs more information on implementation and that he’d prefer advice from an “independent, third-party” expert to help get ranked choice in place for the elections in March in which the mayor’s seat and four council seats will be up for grabs. “But time is of the essence,” he said.

Maestas’ planned motion to rescind the June 28 vote is a way to get around “reconsideration” of the ranked choice issue. Reconsideration is a parliamentary move that would require that one of councilors who were in the four-vote majority on June 28 make a motion to reconsider the issue.

At least one observer of Wednesday night’s meeting said that, without discussion, the full council voted to consider rescinding the June vote at the next council meeting. But Maestas said all that happened was that he provided notice that he will make the motion to rescind on July 26.

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