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High court won’t order ranked choice voting in Santa Fe

SANTA FE — The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday denied an emergency petition seeking to force Santa Fe to implement ranked-choice voting for the 2018 municipal election.

A three-justice panel made up of Charles Daniels, Petra Jimenez and Barbara Vigil reviewed the petition for writ of mandamus, or order, and concurred that the petition should be rejected.

“We’re pretty disappointed,” said Maria Perez, of FairVote New Mexico, one of the parties who petitioned the court. “The way the election in Santa Fe is shaping up is exactly why we need ranked-choice voting in place. We might have people get elected with only 20 or 30 percent of the vote.”

Ranked-choice voting, also called “instant runoff,” would apply in city elections where there were more than two candidates. Voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first-ranked votes in the initial count, the last-place candidate is eliminated and the process is repeated until one of the candidates receives a majority.

Already, there are three people who have announced their candidacy for mayor and two others who have picked up candidate information packets for that position. Three people have also picked up packets to run for city council seats in three of the four districts.

City voters in 2008 approved changes to the city charter that mandated ranked-choice voting but not until vote-counting software was available and affordable. The software is now available for $40,000.

But in June, the City Council voted 4-3 to not to implement ranked-choice voting in 2018, citing one reason as being the software still had not been certified. There were other concerns, including lack of clarity regarding how incorrectly marked, or “spoiled” ballots would be handled and a tight time frame to educate voters about a change.

City Clerk Yolanda Vigil said in a statement Thursday that the ranked-choice should be implemented in time for the 2020 municipal election.

“As always, our focus is on administering another successful election process this March, and we look forward to implementing Ranked Choice Voting following this cycle,” she said.

Perez said the city is still neglecting its legal duty under the 2008 charter amendment.

“We’re definitely not closing the door on this,” she said, adding that FairVote New Mexico was now exploring its legal options. “The fight continues, and we’ll get this done sooner or later.”

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