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SF mayor proposes money, runoff for March ranked-choice election

SANTA FE — The Santa Fe City Council on Wednesday will consider two new proposals related to the March 6 municipal election, which a district court judge last month ordered to be conducted using the ranked-choice voting method.

One would create a new section in the city’s election ordinance that calls for a runoff election between the top two voter-getters if no one receives a majority of all votes cast, a possibility despite ranked-choice voting’s description as an “instant runoff.”

The other amends the city’s public campaign financing ordinance to allow surplus funds to be used on a public education campaign about ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Both proposals are being introduced by Mayor Javier Gonzales and can only win quick approval during the run-up to the election if the City Council agrees to waive a rule that requires new legislation to go through a committee review process, which is also on the agenda Wednesday night.

City voters in 2008 approved an amendment to the city charter that calls for municipal elections to be conducted using RCV, which asks voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no one gets a majority of first-place votes in an initial tally, the second-place rankings of voters for the last-place candidate are distributed to other candidates. The process continues in however many rounds are necessary to get a majority winner.

Because software capable of tabulating a ranked-choice election wasn’t available until September, the 2018 election is the first chance for Santa Fe to use RCV.

In July, the City Council voted to delay implementation until 2020 over concerns about the software not being ready in time and a time crunch to educate voters. But last month District Judge David Thomson ordered that since the software was certified by the Secretary of State’s office on Sept. 27, the council had to implement RCV in 2018. Thomson’s decision is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The wording of the charter change approved by voters in 2008 states that the RCV process is to continue round by round until one candidate receives “a majority of the votes cast.” But there have been instances in other cities that use RCV where no candidate received a majority from among all voters, as some voters don’t rank any candidate other than their first choice. In these cases, the winner gets a majority of the votes counted in a round or rounds after the initial tally, not of all votes cast.

If that were to happen in the March election, under Gonzales’ plan a two-candidate runoff election would be held six weeks later.

Gonzales’ other proposal calls for using for an unspecified amount from the city’s public campaign funding account to be spent “to support a public education campaign relating to ranked choice voting.” Gonzales has suggested using $300,000 in a voter education campaign.

Santa Fe’s ordinance now requires holding a balance of $300,000 in the fund in advance of the 2020 elections. After money is distributed to eight council or mayoral candidates who qualify for public funding in the 2018 election, there will be a balance of more than $700,000. The fund could be depleted somewhat more if the runoffs Gonzales envisions take place.

Ron Trujillo is the only one of the five mayoral candidates who qualified to receive public financing.

All three candidates running for city council seats in districts 2 and 4 will be accepting public funds. Marie Campos, who is running against incumbent Signe Lindell for the District 1 seat, also qualified.

The lone candidate in District 3, Ramon “Tiger” Abeyta, did not apply for public financing.