Seven people have announced their candidacy for Mayor of Santa Fe, suggesting that someone might win the election with as little as 20 percent or 30 percent of the vote. Taking into account that about 30 percent of registered voters turn out to vote in a mayoral election, that is under 5,000 total votes!
Nine years ago, Santa Fe voters overwhelmingly approved changes to the City’s Charter that included a “Ranked Choice Voting” (RCV) election process. RCV, sometimes referred to as “Instant Run-off Voting,” guarantees that a candidate wins with at least a majority (greater than 50 percent) of the vote.
RCV is as easy as 1-2-3. Voters have the freedom to rank candidates (1st preference, 2nd preference, etc.) rather than just vote for one. If a candidate has a majority of the vote after tallying the first choices, that candidate wins, just like any other election. If not, the last-place candidate loses and the ballots cast for him or her go to the voter’s second-preference choice. The process continues until one candidate obtains greater than 50 percent of the vote. Unlike top-two run-off elections, a costly second election is unnecessary.
Earlier this year, the City Council twice voted to ignore the voters’ wishes by rejecting RCV for the upcoming March 2018 city elections arguing, inaccurately, that certification of the new voting equipment would not be completed in time for the election. The city also wrongly suggested that it would be too difficult to implement RCV in time for the election next spring. Several cities, including ones much larger than Santa Fe, have successfully implemented RCV in less time.
In late September, with a unanimous recommendation from the New Mexico Voting Systems Certification Commission, the Secretary of State certified new state-of-the-art voting software that will be installed on all voting machines, including those to be used by city voters next March. The software upgrade includes improvements to increase access for visually impaired voters, better tabulation and reporting functions, and increased security for our voting systems. Most importantly for Santa Fe: The new software can run RCV elections. With five months left until Election Day and with more than a month before candidates officially file to run, the City has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that RCV is used in the next municipal election. There remains no justification for the city to ignore the will of the people by denying citizens their right to vote with RCV.
Our next mayor, with increased powers and responsibilities, as well as a generous salary that taxpayers will be bankrolling, must earn a mandate and represent the majority of Santa Feans. RCV guarantees that our next mayor will have that mandate. Given that the City has already decided not to comply with the RCV law and that the state’s Supreme Court decided not to take the case, we’ve had to bring a lawsuit in District Court to require the City to honor the decision voters made nine years ago to utilize RCV for its elections.
We believe the court will agree with our petition. Even better, the City could choose to stop fighting the lawsuit and, instead, comply with the law and begin taking steps to prepare for an RCV election next year. We can all come together for a better, more accountable, democracy in Santa Fe.
Maria Perez is director of FairVote New Mexico. Craig O’Hare is a co-plaintiff with Perez in the lawsuit that seeks to require ranked-choice voting in the 2018 city elections