SANTA FE — A new method of voting apparently didn’t change the outcome of Tuesday’s mayoral election in Santa Fe.
The result of the first election in New Mexico to be decided by ranked-choice voting (RCV) was the same as it would have been had the election been decided by plurality: Entrepreneur Alan Webber won, City Councilor Ron Trujillo was second, school board member Kate Noble finished third, and city councilors Joseph Maestas and Peter Ives placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
That was the same order of finish after the first round of ranked-choice vote-counting, when just the first-choice votes for each candidate were tabulated.
But the outcome could have been drastically different had just a few dozen votes gone a different way. Nothing is definite, but Santa Fe might have been swearing in its second female mayor in the city’s 400-year history next Monday.
A post-election analysis of the data indicates that Noble could have given Webber a run for his money in the fourth and final round had she edged ahead of Trujillo in round three.
RCV applies to elections where there are more than two candidates. Voters rank their choices from first to last, choose just a first choice or rank just some of the candidates. If no candidate has more than 50 percent of first-choice votes initially, the candidate receiving the fewest votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes on those ballots are distributed to the remaining candidates.
In later rounds, if the second choice on ballots for candidates being eliminated has already been knocked out, the third choice is counted, and so on. The process is repeated until someone has a majority of votes.
After two rounds, Webber held a 15 percentage point lead over Trujillo and an 17 percentage point lead over Noble. When Maestas was eliminated and his voters’ next-ranked votes were distributed to the other candidates, Noble closed the gap to within one-half of a percentage point of Trujillo. Just 89 votes separated the two, but Noble was eliminated.
The election then swung decisively in favor of Webber, as 3,996 votes — nearly 80 percent of the Noble’s voters’ next-ranked choices — went to him, compared to just 1,032 to Trujillo. That resulted in a 2,964-vote swing, which won Webber a whopping 66 percent of the vote in the final round.
What would have happened if Noble had edged Trujillo in that third round and it was Trujillo’s voters’ next ranked votes that were re-distributed to her and Webber? The final outcome may have been much closer, if not entirely different.
There’s no way to tell from the data released by the City Clerk’s office so far, but informed speculation is that Trujillo supporters saw Webber as the biggest threat to their candidate and many may have ranked him behind Noble on their ballots. Webber was considered a favorite since he entered the race and that idea was bolstered by his raising more money for his campaign — more than $300,000 — than the other four candidates had access to combined.
Had 80 percent of Trujillo voters’ ranked Noble ahead of Webber, she would have picked up 4,523 additional votes compared to 1,131 for Webber, a difference of 3,392, in the final round. Noble trailed Webber by 3,527 votes after the third round, so…. who knows?
Noble’s campaign chairman, former mayor David Coss, said he hadn’t analyzed the data closely. But he could see that the 89-vote separation between Noble and Trujillo in the third round was pivotal.
“In a way Ron and Kate, split the ‘We went to Santa Fe High’ vote,” he said. “When Kate got eliminated someone had to go over the top, and it was Alan.” Trujillo and Noble are Santa Fe natives and graduated from the local high school. Webber moved to Santa Fe in 2003.
Here is how the tallies went as the ranked-choice votes were tabulated over four rounds:
Alan Webber 39.2%
Ron Trujillo 24.4%
Kate Noble 22.4%
Joseph Maestas 8%
Peter Ives 6%
Alan Webber 41.2%
Ron Trujillo 25.6%
Kate Noble 24.1%
Joseph Maestas 8.9%
Alan Webber 44.8%
Ron Trujillo 27.9%
Kate Noble 27.4%
Alan Webber 66.2%
Ron Trujillo 33.8%