SANTA FE – A new judge has been assigned to a case that will determine whether ranked-choice voting will be implemented during the city of Santa Fe’s municipal election on March 6, part of a set of confusing developments in the litigation.
The bottom line is that the city faces a “show cause” order — either implement ranked choice voting in March, or “show cause” on why it should not do so at a hearing later this month. The hearing is in effect an opportunity for both sides to present arguments in a case where a decision must come quickly as the election approaches.
On Thursday, District Judge David K. Thomson took over the case, after the city executed its right to excuse a judge. The notice of assignment states Thomson’s assignment was effective Monday, after the city’s excusal of Judge Gregory S. Shaffer, who was just sworn in last week following his appointment to the bench by Gov. Susana Martinez.
Shaffer had issued a show cause order dated Tuesday — the day after court documents say Thomson was assigned to the case — that set a hearing for Nov. 17. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Assistant City Attorney Zach Shandler said Thursday afternoon. But later in the day, Thomson issued an alternative writ that set a new date for the hearing. It’s now scheduled for 8:15 a.m. on Nov. 21.
Ranked choice voting, also called “instant runoff,” would apply in city elections where there were more than two candidates. Voters would be asked to rank the candidates in order of preference. If after the first count no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the first-ranked votes in an initial count, the last place candidate is eliminated and the second choices of those who voted for the last-place candidate are counted as votes for the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until a winner is determined.
In 2008, Santa Fe voters overwhelmingly approved changes to the city’s charter that called for ranked choice voting, but not until the vote-counting software was available and affordable. That time apparently has come, but too late in the game for the majority of city councilors who voted in July to delay implementation of ranked choice voting until 2020.
Several individuals, including Maria Perez of FairVote New Mexico — a nonpartisan group that advocates for electoral reforms — filed an emergency petition in district court on Sept. 29 to compel the city to implement ranked choice voting for the 2018 municipal election. The petition came about a week after the state Supreme Court had declined to hear the case.
Support your local Albuquerque Journal & T. S. Last SUBSCRIBE NOW cancel anytime